November 26, 2020

COVID-19 shutdowns: Angelenos don’t fight pandemic reality

COVID-19 shutdowns: Angelenos don't fight pandemic reality

I just read an article in the Washington Post about how, in many parts of the country, attempts to return to normal have caused increased COVID-19 infections. It contained the following quote: “If your son or daughter is playing on a town soccer team and a travel soccer team, plus lacrosse, and is also on an ice hockey team, they’re exposed and in close proximity to dozens of other kids.”

My response, as a citizen of Los Angeles County — and, I must add, as a semi-sane adult — was “What the actual hell?”

First of all, no kid who is on a travel soccer team of any note is going to have time to play lacrosse and ice hockey.

Second, who on this pandemic-infected earth is allowing their kids to play team sports?

The same people, I guess, who are going to indoor bars or hosting indoor dinner parties for 20 or having weddings with more than a dozen guests. The same people who are wondering why COVID-19 cases, and the inevitable trail of deaths, are skyrocketing around the country — and wondering if this means that, boohoo, they are going to be forced to cancel their multifamily ‘n’ friends interstate Thanksgiving dinner and give up their inside-seating visits to restaurants again.

Yes. Yes, they are. As the experts have been warning for months, the United States did not decrease infection rates enough over the summer and now, as the weather turns cold in much of the land, we’re all going to have to go back to square one.

Or, as it is known in California, Tier One — the purple place where much, including public schools and places of worship, remains closed, and there is always, always a line outside Trader Joe’s.

For the record, L.A. County residents have never left Tier One. No movie theaters, museums or indoor dining or drinking (other than a stab at opening bars in June that lasted fewer than 10 days) since March, thank you very much. Grocery stores are limited to 50% capacity, most other retail stores are at 25%. Yes, indoor malls are open, but masks are required, and if you need another scented candle from, say, Bath & Body Works, you are looking at a socially-distanced, masked, half-hour wait — minimum.

As many states begin to order more severe shutdowns (Oregon, New Mexico) or call for mandatory masks, we Angelenos are having mixed emotions. We too are horrified by the catastrophic rise in cases around the country, and to a lesser but still alarming extent in California, but we are pretty darn shocked by what many of our far-flung but still fellow citizens have been up to in the middle of a pandemic.

Turns out that while we have been limiting our social gatherings to fewer than 10, holding them outside with masks and insisting that no one, for God’s sake, do any singing, many states in this great nation have given a hard pass on any restrictions whatsoever. Some because they did not experience an early wave of coronavirus cases and some because their elected officials, led by a president intent on politicizing a deadly pandemic, chose to ignore all advice from public health experts.

To be sure, in California, the messages have been mixed — shut her down! Open her up! No, wait, not all the way open! — until the development of a state-wide color-coded system of tiers. Purple is the most restrictive, yellow the least, with red and orange in between. Many California counties made it into the red and orange tiers, but this week nearly 30 were rolled back to purple Tier One.

Which honestly and truly is not the end of the world. The reason for the restrictions is definitely awful and scary, and life in the purple is not what anyone would characterize as a blast, especially for those who have lost their jobs or businesses, but it certainly beats getting or spreading a deadly virus that has killed more than 240,000 Americans and counting.

You could argue that L.A. County’s failure to progress from the purple proves the limited efficacy of its prohibitive measures. Perhaps. But L.A. County is home to 10 million people (more than most states) and many of those people are frontline workers. It is also the largest county in the nation’s most populous — and in many people’s eyes, wackiest — state, which ranks 40th in terms of the cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.

There’s a reason for this: Since the American COVID-19 crisis began, much of California has never returned to “normal” or even close to “normal” because, like it or not, there is no getting back to “normal” during a pandemic. There is only survival, achieved by following expert-advised guidelines designed to limit shared air and, thereby, rates of infection.

This requires sacrifice and self-control, two virtues that — and who saw this one coming? — we here in La La land have been demonstrating with better success, and less whining, than all those spaces so so vocally proud of their “family values” and boot-strap stoicism.

It’s pretty dang eye-opening to realize that California in general, and Los Angeles in particular, has more self-discipline, not to mention a firmer grip on reality than, say, Iowa or Ohio or South Dakota. And yet, here we are: Movie theaters have not been open in actual Hollywood since March, and no one is here is threatening to kidnap the governor.

Does everyone in Los Angeles mask up and practice social distancing every time they should? No, they do not. Some people here also reject the reality of the virus and others are selective about their adherence to the rules. Many joined Black Lives Matter protests in which masks were not always the rule and social distancing was impossible. Others gathered, in public and private, to celebrate the Lakers winning the NBA championship and/or the Dodgers winning the World Series.

Having been living with harsher restrictions for longer than most Americans, we too have grown weary of not gathering with friends, family and even strangers; many of us don’t understand why Florida’s Disney World is open but our Disneyland isn’t. Gov. Gavin Newsom apologized for visiting a Napa Valley restaurant with non-family members for an event that, while not violating the letter of the restrictions he has imposed, certainly violated the spirit.

Still, it is difficult for many of us to understand why some parts of the country, in which people are continuing to sicken and die at alarming rates, are screaming about not being able to go clubbing after 10 p.m. — because we have not been able to go clubbing, even before 10 p.m. for eight solid months! (This has not been a problem for those of us too old, or too sober, to go clubbing, but I for one am definitely getting tired of reminding myself to use the bathroom before I go anywhere, as if I were a child, because so many public restrooms remain closed.)

I desperately hope Californians, particularly those who live in L.A. County, will not choke in the seventh inning and throw away the slim gains we have made by letting our guard down for Thanksgiving, although given the surge we saw after Memorial Day, I am afraid we will.

No doubt it would be easier for Americans to behave responsibly if we were besieged by a foreign nation rather than a virus. If there were reason to suspect that gathering in large groups made us a prime target for death by bullet or bomb, we might see more physical distancing. We would certainly adhere to masking and social distancing recommendations if we were guaranteed some sort of tax break.

Which, in case you have not been paying attention, we are. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more federal and state money will be required to repair the damage. And where do you think that money is going to come from? Benevolent billionaires?

I do not know what to say to all those generally taxation-averse folks who refuse to admit that COVID-19 is real or serious or within our ability to control if not cure. I do not know what to say to folks in states like, say, Texas, who complain about quarantine fatigue because they can’t dine indoors even as their hospitals and morgues overflow. Or to people who live in a state so steeped in pandemic denial that COVID-19 patients reject their diagnosis literally with their dying breath.

I certainly don’t know what to say to people who argue that gathering with multiple households to celebrate a wedding, birthday or Thanksgiving is more important than the safety and, in some cases, survival of the invitees — those people they claim to love so much.

Actually, I do know what to say: Please just stay the hell away from California.

And don’t even think of coming to L.A. County. We have rules here, and they are not blue or red, they’re purple.