George Boardman: Zoom University, and other realities of our post-coronavirus world |

George Boardman: Zoom University, and other realities of our post-coronavirus world

George Boardman
George Boardman
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Skepticism edition

BE SKEPTICAL when you hear talk about a vaccine for the coronavirus virus in less than two years. The record is the vaccine for the Ebola virus, which took five years to develop … THE PEOPLE protesting the continued shutdown of the economy give new meaning to the phrase, “Live free or die”… SIGN OUTSIDE a strip club: “Sorry, we’re clothed”… BARBERS SHOULD do a booming business when they reopen. My hair hasn’t been this long since the early ’70s … IF YOU want to make sure nothing gets done, appoint a committee of 80 people. That’s how many are on Gov. Newsom’s panel to restart the state’s economy … INVESTMENT TIP: If you think the Democrats are going to win in November, buy pot stocks now … WANING MOVEMENT? Nevada County’s backers of the State of Jefferson are now meeting with their counterparts in Placer County instead of separately ...

Gov. Gavin Newsom has hinted he may ease the stay-at-home restrictions soon, but a lot of people in the north end of the state aren’t willing to wait for the governor to find the perfect moment.

Residents of six counties north of us have formally petitioned Newsom to end the restrictions so they can restart their economies, pointing out that a one-plan-fits-all approach doesn’t work in a state as diverse as California. Modoc County is just going to reopen.

Residents of western Nevada County appear to have skipped the formalities, going about their business as if nothing has happened. I’ve heard several reports of packed parking lots in Glenbrook Basin and elsewhere, many people not wearing masks or being careful about social distancing. I know people in Alta Sierra who attended a church service in Auburn.

Maybe they didn’t read the amended order to the county’s stay-at-home order issued last week. The seven-page document appears to have been written by a lawyer and will only be read by another lawyer looking to sue somebody.

Such documents have little impact if they aren’t backed with an enforcement mechanism and it appears that officials are unwilling or unable to do anything about violators, although one guy complained on Nextdoor that a sheriff’s deputy ran him off the Alta Sierra golf course. Maybe we should also petition the governor for relief so that restaurants and other businesses can open while they’re still able to do so.

While California isn’t quite out of the woods yet, it appears we moved fast and decisively enough to weaken the coronavirus so it couldn’t inflict New York City-like damage on the Golden State.

An early stay-at-home order (a tactic adopted by all of the Left Coast states) that was generally obeyed is getting the state major praise from public health authorities, but we had some other things going for us too.

California may have the nation’s largest population, but it is also big enough to avoid the population density you find in the Big Apple. Because the state is so big, people are more likely to go to work in a car than in a crowded subway train or bus. It is also much easier for many of our workers to take the job home with them.

There is some evidence that we were exposed to the coronavirus a lot earlier than anybody realized and were able to develop some immunity before the big wave of infections hit. We may have even caught a break when the 49ers lost the Super Bowl, thus avoiding a victory parade that would have drawn masses of people just as the virus was beginning to circulate.

Along with the damage the pandemic has inflicted on the state’s economy, other aspects of the California way of life have been trashed. Literally. Those reusable bags that were supposed to keep single-use plastic and paper bags out of the landfill? Forget it, they’re a health hazard.

Refillable coffee cups and mugs are also out; paper and — yikes! — Styrofoam cups are back in style. Instead of conserving water, we’re being told to wash our hands frequently. And be sure to buy pre-packaged food, not from food bins.

As the state struggles to establish a new normal, several aspects of the old normal are going to be viewed in a new, more skeptical light. For example:

High-density housing, the favored solution of progressives to the high cost of housing in the state, is not going anywhere. People won’t want to live any closer to their neighbors than necessary.

Similarly, money spent to maintain and expand mass transit will be harder to come by. People who can afford it will avoid commuting to work with a crowd. Good luck getting the funding needed to finish Jerry Brown’s bullet train.

More of us now appreciate the value of open space and parks. Expect pressure to create more of them.

Employers have vacillated over how many of their employees they want to work at home. That may well become a new perk in highly competitive industries.

Drive-in theaters may actually make a comeback. Movie theaters? I’m betting on Netflix and the other streaming services.

When fast food restaurants reopen, careful customers will be eating their meals in the parking lot instead of the dining room.

We’ll see how many parents want to pay tuition so their children can attend Zoom University. I suspect a lot of this fall’s entering freshman will defer for a year.

As we struggle to define the new normal, we can’t ignore other challenges facing us. West Nile virus will soon make its annual visit, we are said to be on the cusp of a megadrought, and we’ll probably have a couple of apocalyptic fires before it rains again. Then there are manmade disasters like more PG&E power outages.

But there’s a reason we’re known as the masters of disasters. We’ve survived biblical floods, landslides, earthquakes and end-of-the-world conflagrations in the past, and we’ll do it again. There is a price to be paid for living in the Golden State.

Why work?

Businesses in western Nevada County champing at the bit to reopen may have a difficult time getting up to speed thanks to a provision in the Cares Act that encourages a couple of million unemployed workers to stay on the sidelines until August.

A provision in the act pays the eligible unemployed $600 a week through July on top of the benefits they collect from the state where they live. If you live in California, that means up to $450 a week in unemployment benefits.

A total of $1,050 a week not to work? Looks like a good deal to me.

But it’s not a good deal for mom-and-pop retailers and restaurants that populate the local economy. While people will lose their benefits if they refuse to return to work, some businesses will be reluctant to sever ties with valued long-term employees. That gives them the choice of operating short-handed or recruiting new, but inexperienced, workers. Those aren’t good options when you’re trying to ramp up business as quickly as possible.

You can hardly fault workers who can make more money staying home than they can earn working. They’re just being rational. But you can blame the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans for accepting the deal. I suspect the Democrats threw out that number as a negotiating ploy, and were surprised when the Republicans said OK.

Unemployment benefits are supposed to help people survive until they can find another job, not give them an incentive to avoid work. The people getting this windfall better hope the businesses that can’t afford them now are still around when the benefits run out and they need a job.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Tuesdays by The Union. Write to him at

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