Opinion: What Gov. Newsom should be doing to curb coronavirus spread
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision last week to require Californians to wear face coverings in indoor public places — and outside when they can’t physically distance — was a smart move that will save lives and help reopen the economy safely.
But there are many more steps that Newsom and local health officials should be taking to ensure that California doesn’t follow Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Florida and other states into a spike of COVID-19 cases that could require a second widespread shutdown just as our economy is struggling to recover.
California needs better and more-reliable data to guide decisions; we need better oversight and enforcement of the restrictions that remain in place; we need real support for vulnerable people who must stay sheltered at home; and we need more transparency about whether the steps we are taking are working or not.
Although California was an early leader in attacking the virus by limiting social and economic interaction, our progress has ended, and now things are getting worse again. The virus has not gone away. It is still all around us, spreading further as we let down our guard.
About 5,400 Californians are hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms, and that number has risen rapidly in the past two weeks. The number of new coronavirus cases has grown in just a week from about 4,000 per day to more than 7,000. But we have very little information about who these people are and how they got the virus, or the true level of infection among our population.
This information gap could be closed in part by collecting and analyzing a weekly, scientific sample of tests that would show us how widespread the infection is and whether the epidemic is spreading or receding. If interviews with those who test positive and their contacts also found to have the virus also include questions about the kind of interaction people have had, we would learn much more about how the virus is spreading and who is most in danger.
That crucial job of tracing the contacts of those with the virus — which appears to be off to a slow start in California — could possibly be helped by a voluntary mobile phone app that would notify people when they have been exposed to someone who tested positive. An app developed by a group known as CovidWatch and headed by a Stanford researcher promises to alert people to COVID-19 exposure without revealing anyone’s identity or sharing the information with the government. The state should sponsor a pilot of that app or something similar to see if residents are willing to use it and if it delivers on its promise.
Meanwhile, Newsom should make clear to Californians that his shelter-in-place order remains in effect for the elderly and other vulnerable people. He should also expand efforts to provide food, medicine and personal care to those forced to remain at home. Workers who provide personal care to shut-ins should be given personal protective equipment to keep themselves and their clients safe.
Since it appears that much of the spread is occurring among family members and housemates, the state should offer temporary alternative housing to anyone who tests positive and is unable to isolate themselves due to overcrowded living conditions, which are especially common among the low-income workers who are most likely to catch the virus on the job and then bring it home.
Finally, the state should improve its online COVID-19 dashboard to provide more user-friendly, real-time data by county on the number of infections, hospitalizations and ICU cases, and the rate of positive tests. Information about the number of track and trace contacts per infected person should also be included.
These are all steps California can and should take now to reduce the level of infection and guard against a resurgence.
If we wait too long and the number of cases grows too big to control, lives will be lost and our economy will not regain its footing. We must not let that happen.