Some combination of willful ignorance, fatigue with health orders, and the human need to see family and friends after a long and often lonely nine months of this pandemic are likely to exacerbate or at least continue the surge in COVID cases we're seeing in California. And at a national level, we are likely to see overwhelmed hospitals for weeks or months to come.
"For every cold statistic there is an equally human justification [for traveling]," the LA Times writes, noting the steady uptick in foot and flight traffic at LAX this week. "From canceled weddings to deferred graduations to birthdays celebrated alone, 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year, and many say they long for a taste of normalcy and comfort."
The paper spoke to one 21-year-old living in Pasadena who was traveling to Mexico City to see his aging grandmother — whose health may be failing. He said he would quarantine "for a few days" before seeing her.
At SFO, traffic was up over the weekend — not quite to pre-pandemic holiday levels but at least double what it has been on a normal day the past nine months.
And beyond the issue of people mitigating risks and traveling despite the warnings of public health officials, you have to factor in that at least some of these people are already immune.
"We actually both had COVID at college, and already gone through the whole process and quarantined and all of that, so we’re both safe to travel," said a pair of San Diego State students whom KPIX interviewed at SFO over the weekend. "We both tested negative, we obviously want to keep our families safe, obviously wearing masks as much as we can."
Some people are traveling for frivolous ski trips and cheap vacations, though, and all of this movement has state governments and public health officials terrified of what's to come in late December and early January.
SFGate has a piece up this morning questioning whether "California [was] too strict for its own good" in issuing public health orders. Because for all the abundance of caution at the state and local level — at least in some counties — California is seeing more sharply spiking case counts than almost anywhere in the country right now. It's a reversal of fortune from the fall when it seems that California had tamed a surge through strict restrictions, all while cases were spiking in places like Florida, Arizona, and Texas where governors had declined to issue stringent health orders.
UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi tells SFGate that she believes there hasn't been enough nuance in the orders, and no adequate "escape valves" for people fed up with being told to shutter businesses and stay home.
"Opening and closing was a valve across the world that allowed relief — especially in a pandemic that goes on this long — and California may not have allowed enough steam to be released," Gandhi says. "It makes sense, part of the reason we're getting flooded is because people were kept apart from each other all year and are now severely tired of it."
She is now advocated for harm-reduction measures — the type of thing that groups like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have advocated for in the gay community since the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
She suggests perhaps telling people that if they are going to gather, try to keep as distant as possible, and have separate households dine in separate rooms — rather than abstaining from all interaction completely.
This latest lockdown in the Bay Area has come with a perhaps not surprising level of pushback from business owners and even one county health officer — not because they deny the science of masks and social distancing, but because they deny that there's data to back up the specific orders that have been made.
"California is unique because this particular lockdown came off as arbitrary and not data driven," Gandhi tells SFGate. "That’s why the opposition to it is not just from those who believe COVID is a hoax; there's also opposition from medical professionals, lawmakers, parents and those with nuanced thinking who believe it’s too restrictive, and didn’t incorporate the biology of virus."
Now, with a potentially more infectious variant of the coronavirus circulating — seen in most prevalence in the U.K. right now but we should know by now that it could be spreading fast in the U.S. and will be detected here soon — the reasoning for the stay-at-home orders will become more prescient.
But for now, as we're staring down Christmas Eve in 48 hours, and as people continue to get on airplanes and circulate all over the country, we can only wait and see — with the expectation that human foibles could be the death of us and our loved ones, and that the experts will likely be proven right.
Photo: Steven Thompson