In summary

It is time for a strict lockdown. We need a four-week shelter-in-place lockdown that allows only truly essential human interaction.

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By Steve Glazer

State Sen. Steve Glazer, a Democrat from Orinda, represents California’s 7th Senate District,

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Yaneer Bar-Yam, Special to CalMatters

Yaneer Bar-Yam is founding president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, where he is an expert on pandemics, He is founder of and the COVID Action Group.

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging out of control, hospitals filling up and so many deaths that body bags are in short supply, we must do what we’ve avoided since March.

It is time to shut down those regions of the state where the virus can’t be controlled through other means.

No more fake lockdowns riven with confusing and easily ignored guidelines. Instead, we need an honest, four-week shelter-in-place that allows only truly essential human interaction. Only this will quell the virus and allow us to reopen the economy while we wait for widespread distribution of the vaccine, which is still many months away.

To control this virus and get our lives back to normal, people should be interacting outside their homes only to protect human life through health care and public safety and to keep the lights and heat on and the water flowing. Grocery stores should have limited hours and access. Food should be delivered to seniors and others with compromised immune systems. Only safe outdoor exercise should still be allowed.

To work, these measures must be coupled with the following:

– Full compensation for small businesses and employees who are hurt by the shutdown.

– Free housing and essential services for anyone who tests positive and can’t safely isolate from others in their household, protecting them from infection.

– Testing requirements, quarantines and monitoring for anyone entering the state. 

– Galvanizing community-based organizations to perform case identification and support individuals in need, coupled with rapid testing and contact tracing.

– Strong enforcement of masking requirements and other restrictions. It is not fair to look the other way at irresponsible behavior while the majority of Californians are doing their part to stop the spread.

These are the steps other countries and states have taken to control the virus. While we struggle, in many other countries restaurants and shops are open, families are gathering without fear and sports teams are playing in stadiums packed with spectators.

Californians, and all Americans, should be outraged that we have allowed the virus to run rampant when so much of the human and economic damage could have been avoided. This has been the greatest public policy failure of our time.

How did it happen? Misinformation and a woeful lack of leadership from the White House didn’t help. But with good intentions, even responsible leaders have wrongly viewed controlling the pandemic as a choice between public health and economic health. 

As experience has shown, there is no such choice. The economy will not recover until we get the virus under control. Restaurants, retailers and others most affected by the pandemic will keep losing business until customers believe it is safe to interact with strangers in close quarters.

Meanwhile, the half measures that have inflicted so much damage and caused so much anxiety and frustration have not contained the virus. California alone has seen 26,000 deaths – more than 40 times the number who die in a typical flu season. 

More than 71,000 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and 263 have died. Imagine if we lost 263 firefighters during one wildfire season, and many of those were the result of fatal injuries first responders suffered while attempting to rescue people who refused to evacuate.

Sheltering in place during a pandemic is similar to an evacuation during a wildfire. Instead of being barred from their homes, people are largely confined to them. But both measures serve the same purpose: saving the lives of those directly impacted, saving other people from being affected by the ongoing disaster, and saving first responders from injury or death.

If the past nine months have taught us anything, it is that half-measures don’t work. They have only prolonged the pain. It’s time to be strong and decisive. It’s time to end COVID’s grip on California once and for all.


State Sen. Steve Glazer has also written about the importance of broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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