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Don Rogers: Time to open up, really?

Don Rogers

Brunswick Basin was bustling.

These days, I’m an infrequent visitor to the office. We need to keep our numbers down and distant. But early this week when I drove in, I noticed what we used to call normal traffic, long lines for takeout at the fast-food joints, “open for business” banners blooming in crannies of the district.

I had no idea so many businesses were essential, watching one masked woman choose among posies, a freshly detailed SUV parked just outside a commercial garage, a couple enjoying coffee at their table on the sidewalk in front of a favorite place, bicycles for sale in a shop, doors open.

I mentioned all the activity to one of the front desk guys where I had my brakes done. He’d noticed, too. Definitely been picking up, he said. Guess folks are getting restless.

Cars bumper to bumper like any summer weekend at Lake Tahoe. Was it Sand Harbor Beach where officers wrote 67 parking citations? Jam-packed beaches in Galveston, just opened. In Southern California, Huntington, Newport, some others. All crowded until the governor ordered them closed again.

Modoc County broke free a week ago and began lifting restrictions like over half the states in the union now. San Francisco is holding tight to theirs. They were the first to shut everything down, before a single confirmed case, and yet their contagion per capita runs below only Los Angeles in our state. Guess where those people are coming when they can.

Deep fog

The governor went from painting the virus as the Death Star and stocking up on ventilators to last week establishing a multi-phased lifting of restrictions beginning in “weeks, not months,” to starting to reopen today, adding more and more eligible businesses to the list.

I know, I’m not being entirely fair. And how’s this for ambiguity: I’d probably make the same decisions up to now if I were him confronting the same sketchy information available at the same moments with his awesome burden for the lives of 40 million Californians.

But that’s my point, I think. The virus doesn’t conform to our fine logic, our models, our ideologies. We haven’t figured it out. Not yet. This fog still drifts thick and cold with what we don’t know, barely a bell on a buoy to go by. Why do we talk like we do know?

Meantime, the American toll is eclipsing a bad year for influenza, and maybe this finally will bring a welcome end to protesters calling COVID-19 just another flu. Bodies don’t stack up like cordwood at epicenters of the flu.

New York and New Jersey, horror central, are beginning to lift restrictions now. New York’s governor will do this in zones. Lighter touched and more rural Upstate will proceed faster than the core of the namesake city.

California in a de facto way is doing the same. Humboldt County beaches have been wide open, for example. They don’t get crowded, and the sheriff refused to guard them anyway. Modoc, about as populated as an Arcata beach and with no confirmed cases, started the rebellion, then Sutter, then Yuba, rural counties beginning to peel away.

Which brings us to … us. Nevada County has counted 41 cases, all recovered except for one death, as of Thursday. Placer County has totaled 163 confirmed cases, to go with 5,300 negative tests for the virus. All but one of the nine total deaths between the two counties have been people older than 65. This from a combined population of 500,000. Make out of this what you will.

The natives clearly are getting restless. A sizable portion anyway. It’s hard to blame them.

Next wave canaries

If the economy were a Spanish galleon, we beached it to save ourselves from a hurricane. Now, at least part of the country is pulling the good ship back into the sea even before the height of the storm. Tennessee went so fast even the president barked, Hold on!

The pandemic appears to have plateaued nationwide — new cases down in the New York metropolitan area, still climbing elsewhere as testing jumps, too — with a small decline to date in hospitalizations and critical cases. Still, the rush to lift the lockdown looks premature for economic as well as health reasons.

Our best historical example for how best to get back to business is the Spanish flu. That’s where “flattening the curve” came from, most starkly between Philadelphia, which threw a big parade, and St. Louis, which closed the schools at word of the first cases.

Guess which city’s economy recovered faster and more solidly, a pattern replicated across the country 100 years ago? A clue: It wasn’t Philadelphia, not by a long shot.

We’ve wrecked the economy, sure, and the hard consequences will ripple from the business community through municipalities and the state government and on. But that’s not going to change with a couple of weeks’ more patience watching for resurgence.

Let those eager guinea pigs and canaries test the air. If there is a next wave, we’ll be awfully glad we did.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299.


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