Considerations on Reopening California

By Senator Mike Morrell
Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Published in Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Press-Enterprise, Redlands Daily Facts, San Bernardino Sun

Our state and nation have implemented extraordinary measures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic – a reflection of the recognized need to take seriously the safety and health of our communities. We are forever grateful to our health care workers and all those on the frontlines in this battle.

After several weeks, with Californians following CDC and state guidelines, it appears things are moving in the right direction. People are now asking whether it is time to reopen businesses and the economy. It is an appropriate conversation to have. While prioritizing physical health, we can and should together figure out how to restart.

It is good news that the worst scenarios have not come true. Early models by researchers at Imperial College London showed 2.2 million Americans dying from coronavirus. Since March, IHME models have revised projections down to 200,000, then 81,000, then 68,000, though numbers continue to change. Much of that falloff is likely attributable to Americans exercising caution. My staff and I have also checked in with our local hospitals. To their credit, they prepared well and some could even expand bed capacity today.

Couple these high projections and lower figures with the anxiety and fear felt by Californians struggling to get by, it is understandable why so many are anxious to reopen.

I have seen firsthand hundreds of business owners reach out to our office with concerns as to whether they can continue ahead. Many have already been forced to lay off their workers, directing thousands into unemployment. Of course, it is not just business owners who face challenges. We are all concerned about the virus itself. Then there are news reports on the stock market plunging 10,000 points, the oil market collapsing, and nearly one in six Americans out of work.

During this crisis, suicide prevention lines in Los Angeles have spiked by 8,000%, alcohol sales are up, and homeowners worry about possible foreclosures. All are reminders of the social ramifications of a lockdown.

There is a serious tension between protecting health and getting Californians back to work to care for their families. Economist Kevin Hassett warned, “We're going to have to either have a Great Depression, or figure out a way to send people back to work even though that's risky.”

With this backdrop, perhaps we should consider the president’s “phased-in” guidelines for opening up America, starting with the advice of experts. They seem to provide succinct and measureable ways of getting us there. Several states are beginning to head that direction, including Georgia, Florida, and Ohio, setting timelines that are both aspirational and realistic in their approach. Things remain fluid, but providing some certainty is surely welcome.

By beginning regionally and using medical data to guide us, perhaps we may determine it is safer to reopen a furniture store or a floral shop with lower foot traffic while continuing to avoid squeezing tens of thousands into an arena for a game or a concert.

Additionally, with nearly 25 percent of fatalities occurring in long-term care facilities, according to the Wall Street Journal, closer attention should be given toward protecting seniors.   

In a state as vast as ours, we have densely populated areas that should perhaps move at a slower pace. Rural areas could have more flexibility. At the same time, we should monitor for hotspots while acknowledging that Americans by and large are exercising caution to keep each other healthy.

I appreciate the suggested federal guidelines of opening regionally, recognizing states’ rights and, more importantly, local rights, starting with counties and cities and moving decisions closer to the people who have a vested interest in their physical and economic well-being. This would be a very American and constitutional thing to do.

I am grateful to the doctors, nurses, medical staff, and other health officials for their coordinated response.  All of these efforts will make us better prepared if there is a next time around.

Though America finds itself in a very difficult position, I do not believe Providence has abandoned us and I am convinced that better days lie ahead. Thank you for reading and may God bless you and your loved ones during these challenging times.