Coming Out Of COVID-19 Isolation
The existential purpose of government is to regulate and adjudicate conflicts between the rights of one or more individuals and those of one or more other individuals. Think about it for a moment; if it weren’t for the inevitable conflict and competition for the rights of one with respect to the rights of another there would be no necessity for government to exist. Virtually all laws and ordinances passed at all levels of government are attempts in one way or another to balance the necessary limitation on the rights of one in order to better insure the rights of another. This is the situation that your governments, Federal, State and Local, are facing in the current COVID-19 states of health emergency. Decision makers weighed impact of infringement on rights of people to move about, freely associate and, in some cases, operate their businesses on the one hand against the threat of infringement on the rights of people throughout the community be secure in their health and, in some cases, life itself associated with the potential spread of the virus on the other hand .
On the front end of the crisis it was deemed by the President of the United States, the Governor of the State of California and the Public Health Officer of the County of Tuolumne, that the potential impacts to public safety associated with the potential spread of the virus and resulting threat to health and life outweighed the impacts to infringement on personal rights associated with a shutdown. Although, not the decision-making authority, and given only the information available at that time, I fully supported those decisions. I did believe at the time that the Country, State and County could not stay on that path but for a relatively short time. In fact I felt that 4-6 weeks of shutdown, while being hard on our Community, was doable but anything much beyond that was going to have extreme consequences that would necessitate reconsideration of that course of action. We are just beyond the four-week point in the shutdown now and my gut feel has only been reinforced by the intervening data and circumstances. I believe we are at or very near the tipping point where the aggregate damage in terms of financial, psycho-social, emotional and way of life impacts are, or shortly will, exceed the potential risk to people’s health and life associated with lifting the shutdown. I worry for the very fabric and underpinnings of our society if we continue with the shutdown much longer. Although not committing to a date, the Governor did use the term “about two weeks” when pressed in his press conference on April 14th. That would take us to 6 weeks.
Having said all the above, I also believe that the most damaging thing we could do is come out of the shutdown in a less than measured and controlled manner. The worst thing that could happen is to come out too soon and/or too fast and, as a result, realize a significant future community contamination of the virus. Having to go back into shutdown mode would be much harder and damaging to us all individually and our Community than it was going into it in the first place. Another one of my biggest concerns for ending the shutdown, especially if we end the shutdown here in the foothills while those jurisdictions in the valley and bay area remain hot/warm spots with the virus and remain shut down, is that we will inevitably and understandably be an irresistible and inevitable magnet attracting large scale visitation from those areas. There simply is not a legal means to reopen and control migration from those areas. On top of that much of our local businesses depend on that visitation for any meaningful level of success. That argues for a considered, phased and measured approach to lessening the current restrictions. Take a step and see how that works out for a couple of weeks and then, depending on the result, maybe take another step. What those steps might look like will depend on what happens in the
interim as well as what the Governor directs and/or recommend. I am certain the consensus among the Federal, State and Local authorities is that it would be a tragic mistake to just shout ollie, ollie, oxen free, free, free. One final thought on the phased process: Our success and ability to move from phase to phase will be highly dependent on the public support of and compliance with the guidance and orders for each phase. If people just fail to comply it will likely take that much longer to get back to whatever our new normal will be. Worse, if that failure results in wide-spread COVID-19 infections with community transmission within our County it will necessitate returning to our containment restrictions. Our success as a community will depend on everyone working together on this transition.
What that transition looks like in time and policy is being worked out and coordinated at all levels of government. The one positive aspect of the governmental decision-making at all levels is the President’s mantra of “Federally supported, State managed and Locally executed”. I took heart from our Governor in his address on April 14th on coming out of the shutdown when he repeated, at least three times, the phrase “Localism is Determinism”. I don’t believe we will have a one-size-fits-all solution imposed and we should not. I do believe and fervently hope that we will have local flexibility to determine when and how to execute the coming out process to the maximum extent possible. Your local government leadership is plugged in directly with the White House and the Governors office in Sacramento. When Washington and Sacramento are ready to go, we will be appropriately ready as well. I would like to see Tuolumne County, as we often have, lead the way in the State. But if we lead we must do it wisely. The best way to get to the earliest possible start date is for all of us to adhere to the current guidelines and orders. And remember, no one can keep you healthy and safe if you don’t do your part. Let’s be healthy and stay safe.