Commentary: Things Were Working, Why Change COVID Policies?

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By David M. Greenwald

Throughout this whole pandemic, the US has shown a stunning lack of patience. What has happened is that we had the initial outbreak in March and April, we were able to go through lockdowns and other measures to level and reduce the number of new cases.

Instead of simply going into a holding pattern in May, we started to rush to re-open.

What happened was pretty predictable—the number of new cases surged in July to an all-time high. So things had to lock down again. I do think we got smarter about how to do things—we learned that, with masks, some places could stay open, businesses could serve food and other things outdoors, and so we could reduce the cases without a total shutdown.

The peak rate in July was about 75,000 cases a day. By mid-September that fell to about 40 to 45,000 cases per day. But since mid-September, we are back on the rise. October 20, we were back up to 60,000 new cases with about 900 deaths.

Reports the New York Times: “After weeks of warnings that cases were again on the rise, a third surge of coronavirus infection has firmly taken hold in the United States. The nation is averaging 59,000 new cases a day, the most since the beginning of August, and the country is on pace to record the most new daily cases of the entire pandemic in the coming days.”

This time, it is a little different. It is not clustered in acute and concentrated outbreaks.

The Times reports that “the virus is now simmering at a worrisome level across nearly the entire country. Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming each set seven-day case records on Tuesday.”

It goes further: “The latest wave threatens to be the worst of the pandemic yet, coming as cooler weather is forcing people indoors and as many Americans report feeling exhausted by months of restrictions. Unlike earlier waves, which were met with shutdown orders and mask mandates, the country has shown little appetite for widespread new restrictions.”

The article adds: “The newest surge sets the stage for a grueling winter that will test the discipline of many Americans who have spent warmer months gathering in parks and eating outdoors, where the virus is known to spread less easily. At the current rate of growth, new daily confirmed cases could soon surpass 75,687, the record set on July 16.”

California so far has weathered this better than most—not one of the areas of huge increase. It mirrors what happened in April and May, when California avoided the worst, but then fell back over the summer to have a huge surge.

What worries me is that we haven’t really learned from any of this. Here in Yolo County, on September 30, Yolo moved into the red tier. That meant local businesses could reopen indoors or have eased restrictions.

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But why? What we were doing was working on September 30. We had dropped the rate back down—it wasn’t quite as low as May, when we were only getting a case or two a day, but far better than June through mid-August.

If it ain’t broke, don’t step right on? No?

The real troubling aspect of this is that by the time we moved into the red zone, the nation was already seeing an uptick.

According to one supervisor, the county is under state guidance. But they do have the option of more restrictive measures—they just can’t go less restrictive.

We haven’t fallen off the wagon just yet, and if we act quickly, maybe we can avoid doing so.

The responsible thing to do is hunker down and wait this out until the spring, when hopefully a vaccine comes online.

Those worried about the economy—we have managed to cushion it through the stimulus process and we can continue to do so.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that any additional relief will come prior to the election. Senator McConnell reportedly warned his colleagues yesterday that “he had advised the White House against striking a pre-election deal with Democrats to deliver pandemic aid, fearing political repercussions.”

But, given that the election is only two weeks away, that is perhaps not the end of the story here.

Until we recognize that this is going to continue, we are going to be in this boom-or-bust holding pattern.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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45 thoughts on “Commentary: Things Were Working, Why Change COVID Policies?”

  1. Keith Olsen

    What’s the plan?

    Shut things down until there’s a vaccine?

    Up to date there has never been a vaccine produced for any coronavirus ever.

    Hopefully the drugmakers can come up with one this time.

    But if they don’t, what’s the plan?

     

     

     

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          No, I’m not talking about shutdowns. Where did I say I support shutdowns? I’m talking about going back to the rules of September 29 – do you know what they did on September 30? What we were doing on September 29 was working.

        2. Keith Olsen

          Was working how?  Most things were still shutdown or very limited.  Most businesses are still suffering.

          Kids are falling way behind at school.  Our country’s debt is skyrocketing.  Millions upon millions out of work.  So what’s working?  Keeping the COVID numbers somewhat lower?  All that does is prolong the inevitable.  It’s like dying from a thousand cuts but in the meantime the economy goes out the window with it.   I say this all   ‘IF THERE IS NO VACCINE’.

          I’m willing to wait a few more months to see if we get a safe vaccine.

          But if we don’t, what’s the plan if there’s no vaccine?

           

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Working at reducing the number of new cases while allowing a good amount of businesses to be open.

            What makes you think there will be no vaccine?

        3. Bill Marshall

          I support the vaccine approach… but having one that is both safe, and big time effective… to think that will happen by Jan-Feb is a pipe dream… with the pipe filled with MJ… even having the virus, and ‘fully recovering’, has not prevented re-infection…

          This thingy is NOT the flu, as we have known it… I m not paranoid about it, but neither do I dismiss it… I follow the guidelines, and they have been moderate, in my view…

          One of our kids, living out-of state… tested positive… twice… mild cold symptoms… has now tested negative… due to his employment, he will be regularly screened, and periodically tested… he has no false allusions that he is now immune (his big sister is a medical professional)… unlike the [edited: president]… he will still observe protocols…

          Those who don’t ‘play the game’ and follow protocols, should be open to being ‘shamed’, and/or dealing with the consequences… I’d have no problem denying care to them under insurance (let it come out of their pocket)… just drives the insurance costs higher for the rest of us… may sound callous, but can also be considered “logical consequences”…

    1. Bill Marshall

      Thanks to POTUS, there is no plan…

      His followers/supporters who insist on no masks, no distancing, opening everything up… well, Darwin had a theory about that… perhaps many less Republicans in 2022… fair tradeoff…

    2. Tia Will

      No one has a vaccine available. Yet other countries have been far more successful than the US. Let’s take three examples: New Zealand, Germany, and Canada. I chose those three because, yes New Zealand is an isolated island. That model might be good for Hawaii, Alaska, and some of our more isolated rural counties. Germany as a mid position. Similarly wealthy but much better managed. And finally Canada as an example of a similarly modernized, wealthy, and larger area with a similar composition of the population including immigrants to that seen in the US. All have done better in pandemic control. All have designed approaches that could pertain to parts of the US. Why we continue to flounder when other examples of better management exist is beyond my ability to comprehend, except for our unfounded belief that the US is the best at everything.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Daily coronavirus infection rates are 48% higher in the UK and nearly four-times higher in the Netherlands compared to the US where the latest ‘wave’ of the pandemic is growing more slowly

        Outbreaks of coronavirus are growing across much of the world, including in Europe and the US 
        Many European nations including the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are instituting new lockdowns and restrictions to slow the spread
        The American COVID-19 crisis is growing by about 166 new cases per day per million people in the US, according to Our World in Data
        In the UK, about 250 per million residents are testing positive for COVID-19 daily
        Belgium is seeing the steepest rises with some 620 new daily infections were million people 
        The Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany and Italy are all seeing sharp rises
        Dr Fauci blames the growing problem in the US on the nation ‘not shutting down enough’ earlier on in the pandemic 
        International experts think similarly lax attitudes toward restrictions like mask wearing and social distancing 

        https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8856603/Daily-coronavirus-infection-rates-higher-UK-Europe-US.html

  2. Tia Will

    Here in Yolo County, on September 30, Yolo moved into the red tier. That meant local businesses could reopen indoors or have eased restrictions. But why?

    Having been at regular attendance at the Health Council and Board of Supervisors meetings since near the onset of the pandemic, I would tend to confirm that we have not learned from past events. Using the Cases by Date graphic is illustrative. From mid-April to late May we had briefly contained our number of new cases and our number of deaths which had been held to 22 by imposition and in most areas of the county mostly adherence to the stay at home except for essentials order.

    What happened next was a local and national disaster based in my opinion on a failure of communication, planning, and resolve. With regard to communication, I heard over and over again public commentary that the pandemic was no worse than the flu, would only affect the old, and the entire litany of minimization, which we now know to be inaccurate. Worse I heard in public comment that the lockdown was deliberately anti-business and authoritarian. There was tremendous pressure upon our public officials to open despite clear evidence that the shutdown was having the desired effect in controlling viral spread. Against the pleadings of some from the medical community, the decision was made to open, with the results as diagrammed including the June spike and an increase from 22 to 56 deaths countywide.

    So how did the failures occur:

    1. Not conveying the serious nature of the disease. Not conveying its ease of spread. Not conveying the pre and asymptomatic spread. Selling the concept of “flattening the curve” as winning the war instead of a first skirmish in a long war. And most disturbing in my mind, misidentifying the enemy as people with differing ideas instead of the virus.

    2. Planning. To date, we still do not have a national plan. The state guidance, while a valiant effort to provide evidence based approaches while respecting the differing circumstances by county, is too often taken as the standard instead of appling stricter regulations where conditions would warrant ( such as in university settings). And finally, while we have adopted the language of “following the science”, but not the reality thereof. One example, Dr. May explained the university and county decisions were “evidence-based” but then explained that we had incomplete data in the form of lacking a testing denominator from the university. One cannot be operating in evidence-based mode without having all the evidence.

    3.Finally, in the area of resolve. Here we are clearly lacking. We have adopted a mindset of fatigue described as “people are tired of hearing about COVID”, pretending that because we do not want to see it, it does not exist. Ironically on the other side, we latch onto even minor temporary improvements as signs that we have won.

    One thing that is certain to me is we are certainly not our parents and grandparents who weathered WWII without nonstop bitching about “their rights” to live their lives with no concern for others. I do have some hope that we will not have to keep repeating groundhog day many more times before we understand this is not going to magically disappear, but could be contained, only by us doing the unappealing hard work of what we have demonstrated works.

     

     

     

    1. Don Shor

      Tia, did you attend today’s meeting of the Health Council? Sounds from one comment I received that Yolo may be moving back into the ‘purple’ zone due to the numbers and positivity trends.

  3. Keith Echols

    It’s always been a tight rope balancing act of keeping infection rate and hospital visits down vs. strangling the economy.

    I’m not commenting with a strong opinion (unlike my land use comments) as this is definitely not my area of expertise….but at what point should restrictions on businesses and gatherings be lifted?  I don’t think waiting for a 100% effective vaccine is a viable strategy….I don’t think anyone is suggesting it but it represents one extreme end of the spectrum.  I think the county and state are going off of some guidelines about reaching lowered target new infection rates?  I guess the true target should be hospitalization rates?  (I guess in theory that those out there at restaurants and gatherings but are still masked and socially distant may be less adversely effected by an infection?…”viral load” I think it’s called?).

    I miss going to restaurants, concerts, music festivals, sporting events, wineries, pubs, movie theaters…..most of all I’d like my mom to be able to safely fly in from out of state to visit.  But I’m personally fine waiting until spring or whenever for restrictions to be let up.  But I also know there are many struggling businesses and people that can’t wait that long.  So I don’t know what the answer is.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think your comments here are reasonable. I would like to add one point re: strangling the economy. Prolonging this I think strangles the economy more than people are recognizing right now. In other words, had we done the deep pain approach in April and May, we might have been able to move on quicker than the half-measure approach. I’m not recommending deep pain at this point, but using that point to illustrate the tricky factor.

      1. Keith Olsen

        had we done the deep pain approach in April and May, we might have been able to move on quicker than the half-measure approach.

        There would’ve still been cases that would’ve spread again and the media would’ve sounded the alarm as they’re doing now.  You make it sound like the disease would’ve been mostly eradicated had we done the deep pain approach in April and May.  Not so.  Like I said, what we’re doing now is death by a thousand cuts.  It just prolongs the inevitable if we DON’T GET A VACCINE.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Keith E… folk ignoring guidelines/common sense are impacting the medical industry, and will likely be a manner of ‘strangling the economy’ in the form of higher insurance rates… you decry the all or nothing thingy… and yet you say,

      but at what point should restrictions on businesses and gatherings be lifted?

      The answer is, we don’t know when, or at what level… these are uncharted waters… the incremental approach, as we learn more about the virus, seems prudent… we truly have a lack of scientific knowlege … no “silver bullet” readily apparent… and even if it was, probably could not be fully implemented in next 3-6 months… at best… not pessimistic, but realist…

      1. Keith Echols

        you decry the all or nothing thingy

        When did I decry anything?  I’m pretty sure I said I didn’t have any answers….I just asked a question.  I’m not sure I’ve ever decried something…I’m going to have to reflect on that.

        To me it seems inevitable that people are going to get sick without a vaccine.  I thought the whole point of restrictions was to limit it the point where hospital capacity could handle it.  Also, slowing down the infection rate meant more ways to treat it could be discovered and implemented.

        So I’ve reflected on it:  I’ve decried that UCD hasn’t found affordable housing options for their revenue generating assets.  I decried the 49ers firing Jim Harbaugh (though I like Shanahan and I think I miss DC Vic Fangio more than Harbaugh anyway).  I’ve decried recent South Park seasons being too tied to current events (back in the 90’s it was far more bizarre and creative).  I’ve decried modern music’s loss of a guitar based rock sound (or at least I’m too old/out of touch to know where to find it).

        1. Alan Miller

          I’ve decried modern music’s loss of a guitar based rock sound (or at least I’m too old/out of touch to know where to find it).

          It’s out there!

    3. Tia Will

      Keith

      I hear your frustrations, which is exactly why I think the US should be looking at those practices we could adopt/adapt from other countries that have handled the pandemic and its economic fall out more successfully. I urged an emergency UBI such as many other countries adopted to allow continued purchases which would have saved many small businesses on the belief that staying in, social distancing, and masking would not inevitably lead to economic collapse. This idea however was killed by the bugaboo of “socialism” thereby consigning US citizens to business failure and bankruptcy as well as the pandemic. Incredibly short-sighted in view of the fact that we could see its success in other countries.

      1. Keith Echols

        Tia,

        Thank you for your consideration.  Actually I’m not frustrated.  I feel grateful.  So far my family and I have been doing relatively well during all of this (as I hope most others here have been doing as well too).  I understand why there are restrictions and my sacrifices are relatively minor compared to those made by many others.

        My comment was more of an academic response to David.

        As for the big “bugaboo” about socialism?  Weren’t those $1200 checks back in the spring a socialist solution to a large degree?  I’ve never given Universal Basic Income much thought.  I guess the question is weather or not the country can afford UBI?  Wouldn’t a better solution have been UBI for those unemployed/under employed…..or with little financial assets (if I made $10M last year and just stuck it in a no interest account or invested most of it ventures that so far haven’t profited, then I would have been eligible for $1200 stimulus check if I didn’t make anything this year)?   I think UBI would be difficult to implement at a federal level.  Using $1200 as an easy example, that amount isn’t much in San Francisco like half to a 1/3 of someone’s rent.   But it’s the same amount of money someone makes working minimum wage for 40 hours a week for 4 weeks in Kentucky.   Should the amount be adjusted for living conditions?  In which case if I’m from Kentucky and I get $400 a month….I’m going to ask…why is that guy in CA getting $1200 just because he/she chose to live somewhere expensive?  I think UBI works better for those smaller European countries because there’s less economic diversity (I could be wrong about this).  Maybe UBI should be implemented at the local or state level?  Wasn’t Stockton experimenting with this idea?  The problem is that cities and states have to be prepared for this and are not financially capable of just starting UBI in the middle of a pandemic.  I don’t know…I’m just spit balling thoughts about it at this point.

        1. Tia Will

          Keith

          I should have been more specific in my comments regarding an emergency UBI. I do not favor a plan such as was championed by Yang. I see no benefit in providing a fixed amount of money annually to those such as myself who have no need. I do however feel that a higher fixed amount of money should have been sent to everyone who lost their income, and perhaps everyone living at or below the poverty level for their community during this time of national crisis. This could have avoided much of the worst impacts of the “shut down” for those in need. This continues to be true now as millions face food, housing and medical insecurity. I agree that individual states, counties and municipalities do not have the funds to afford this which is precisely why I see it as a federal priority. Only the federal government, through increased taxation of the uber-wealthy ( above $400K annually for example) would result in the kinds of funding needed to keep individuals, families, and the economy afloat.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        In addition, you made a claim about the economy, but Sweden’s economy has not fared better than their neighbors who have taken a different approach.

        1. Keith Olsen

          In addition, you made a claim about the economy, but Sweden’s economy has not fared better than their neighbors who have taken a different approach.

          Wrong, Sweden’s economy did much better than their neighbors in Europe.

          While no nation has emerged unscathed from the coronavirus crisis, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of job losses and millions of business closures following widespread government-imposed shutdowns, data show the Swedish economy has been hit much less than the rest of Europe.

          Two quarters of data have emerged now, and it’s clear that Sweden’s “lighter touch” policies have resulted in far less economic damage than its European counterparts.
          Indeed, a recent report from Capital Economics, an economic research firm based in London, concludes that Sweden’s economy is the least damagedin Europe, the “best of a bad bunch.

          https://fee.org/articles/bbc-sweden-s-economy-is-doing-way-better-than-the-rest-of-the-eu-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Keith – enough of this. Are you eating inside restaurants right now? Going to bars? Would you?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Generally speaking, comparing Sweden to Italy (for example) is not a good comparable. So they have been comparing both COVID and economy to Finland and Norway and maybe Denmark.

        2. Keith Olsen

          Keith – enough of this. Are you eating inside restaurants right now? Going to bars? Would you?

          Yes, I’m eating in restaurants.  Haven’t been to a bar but would be willing to sit at a table in a bar, but not bellied up to the bar.

        3. Richard McCann

          Keith O,

          You’re reference to Sweden is more than 2 months stale. Sweden’s mortality rate is worse than than its Scandinavian neighbors. We already went through this discussion here disproving your assertion. It’s already settled that Sweden blew it badly.

          https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/it-s-been-so-so-surreal-critics-sweden-s-lax-pandemic-policies-face-fierce-backlash

          https://www.businessinsider.com/sweden-coronavirus-strategy-high-death-toll-no-economic-gain-data-2020-7

        4. David Greenwald Post author

          The problem Keith is that the cases are ramping back up again – which suggests that COVID is not contained in Sweden and while deaths are low at the moment, we know that death is a lagging indicator that follows the ramp up of cases.

        5. Keith Olsen

          Richard, my reference to Sweden’s Covid 19 death per day chart is very up to date.  Sweden has had 6 deaths or less per day since July 24 and on Oct. 19 and 20 they had zero deaths.  Zero as in NONE.   This chart is from the European CDC and was updated as of today.

          https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&country=~SWE&region=World&deathsMetric=true&interval=daily&hideControls=true&smoothing=0&pickerMetric=location&pickerSort=asc
           

  4. Todd Edelman

    Just one anecdote:

    I am looking for shared housing. I showed up at a house in West Davis, wearing a mask.  The current residents are UC Davis students.

    The person aiming to do a lease takeover opened the door, wearing scrubs. I asked that they put a mask on as I stepped in. They went to get it.

    The housemates who would continue to live there were in the common area, doing homework. No masks. I had a tour of of the place.

    Came back to the common area, and asked about masks. Was told “we don’t wear masks in the house”. Explained further that one works at a hospital and is exposed to people so I might not feel comfortable there. Related,  they said people come over, inside, mostly on the weekends.

    I asked what people were studying; the person talking the most said that they were studying global diseases.

  5. Todd Edelman

    Most people eating at restaurants are with people not from their household. Is it obvious? Yes. How often do journalists interview restaurant visitors to ask them who they are eating with?

    While meeting outside with masks on and distanced is considered to be low risk, it’s almost certainly much safer if it’s windy. Why is wind not an officially-communicated factor for outdoor safety, as is interior air exchange and filtration?

  6. Todd Edelman

    New CDC guidance is that the 15-min rule for exposure is not per incident, but based on daily accumulation (probably synonymous with 24 hours?). Does this mean the same person for 15-min per day OR everyone, aggregated, for 15 min a day?

    1. Alan Miller

      Does this mean the same person for 15-min per day OR everyone, aggregated, for 15 min a day?

      Rather than trying to figure this out, as there’s no way to know how the virus is spreading-concentrating in any given situation, just think of going to a public place these days as similar to using a rubber that expired in the 80’s.

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