The State and counties should already be collaborating on a predictable and transparent transition into Stage 3 of California’s COVID-19 Resiliency Roadmap
There was a hint of normalcy in the air this past holiday weekend. With many counties transitioning into Stage 2(b) of the California Resiliency Roadmap, people took advantage of open beaches, restaurants, and retail stores.
But many businesses remain closed, even with the Governor’s recent ad hoc announcements that: (1) retail stores across the State may fully reopen if permitted by their counties; (2) hair salons and barbershops may reopen in counties in Stage 2(b) (instead of Stage 3); and (3) guidelines to reopen fitness facilities (previously scheduled for Stage 3) may be released in a week or so. For example, bars and wineries along with large segments of the tourist industry cannot open until we transition into Stage 3. Moreover, businesses, schools, and parks and recreation departments that provide summer camps and activities for children remain in limbo, trying to navigate inconsistencies in both the Roadmap and county public health orders. As a result, under current policy, the economic and social damage caused by closures across critical sectors of our economy will continue until the Governor changes his mind, alters his Roadmap, and effectively moves an industry into Stage 2 (as he did repeatedly this week). Or he might determine that the entire State is ready to transition into Stage 3. Or he might do something else. We have no way of knowing what the Governor will do, when he will do it, or why.
As comforting as it is to see many businesses reopening, adhering to this “approach” of reopening one industry at a time without rhyme or reason would be yet another mistake in our handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since issuing the stay at home order, the State’s response to the pandemic has been a chronic planning failure. There was no plan for transitioning out of the stay at home order when it was issued. Nor was there a plan when it became obvious in early April that the order had succeeded. When the Governor finally revealed his plan for loosening the stay at home order in early May, it did not include the final criteria that counties would be required to meet if they wanted to reopen even faster. When those criteria were unveiled several days later, it was clear that they had been developed unilaterally by the State and were designed to ensure that most counties could not meet them. It took a round of defiance, protests, and intense lobbying by county officials and state legislators to generate reasonable criteria that many counties could actually meet. With actual and threatened litigation by industries, churches, and the Department of Justice, the Roadmap was amended three times this week – the Stages are being redefined on the fly. With the chaos continuing to come out of Sacramento and so many people and businesses still in limbo, the question remains: What’s the actual plan for transitioning into and through Stage 3?
Your guess is as good as mine. The Governor has not identified any criteria that will guide his decision, nor specified a timeline. Sound familiar?
Having seen this movie before, we do not need to see it again. Many counties will likely transition through Stage 2(b) with virtually no change in case or hospitalization data (just as they did Stage 1). It will take roughly 14-21 days for counties in Stage 2(b) to assess the impact of their reopening measures on the trajectory of the virus. Why not use this time to work collaboratively with the State to develop and publish an orderly and transparent process and sensible criteria for transitioning into and through Stage 3?
Unlike the pattern over the past 10 weeks, this process would actually fulfill Governor Newsom’s pledges to collaborate with counties and give strong weight to their views. It would also enable people and businesses plan for the summer and fall, improving our chances for a stronger recovery. Ideally, the counties that collaborated to devise sensible criteria for transitioning into Stage 2(b) would do the same thing to guide the transition through Stage 3, sending their proposals to the State with the goal of reaching an agreement in the next two weeks. By the time the hospitalization data would be available to assess the success of Stage 2(b), we would have the necessary policies and criteria in place to enable counties to transition into Phase 3 if the data indicate they could responsibly do so.
Governor Newsom and the State Department of Public Health made the transition from Stage 1 to 2 of our pandemic response unnecessarily slow and difficult. The transition through Stage 2 and into Stage 3 is showing signs of following a similar pattern. Let’s learn from our mistakes, not repeat them. Our counties and State need to start collaborating on a sensible, transparent, and predictable process that will enable counties to transition into Stage 3 if they have successfully transitioned through Stage 2(b). This time, let’s do the right thing before exploring every other option.