Building A Re-Opening Plan On Shifting Sand

[Editor: This op-ed originally appeared in the OC Register on September 21, 2020]

by Will O’Neill, Jennifer Fitzgerald, Beth Haney, Janine Heft and Brian Goodell

We need to safely re-open California – or at least Orange County – now.  We are three weeks into the new “tier” system to reopen California.  The official guidelines have changed three times and we expect more changes to come.  Shifting standards have been the only consistency and we are – simply put – beyond frustrated.

We were told in March that the state was shutting down to “flatten the curve.” The Governor then rolled out a four-Phase plan for reopening on April 28. On May 23, Orange County reached “phase 2.” Small businesses purchased extensive and expensive PPE and public barrier materials to reopen safely.

Five weeks later, the governor scrapped the four-phase approach, shut the state down again, and created a “watchlist” focused on hospitalizations and infection rates.  Hospitalizations in Orange County peaked on July 13 at 11.8 percent of capacity. They are now at 3.3 percent. As hospitalizations plummeted, Orange County rolled off the watchlist on August 23.  But nothing reopened.  Other than schools, there was no re-opening plan and no expectation of success.While cities and counties were trying to adapt to the “watchlist” criteria, the Governor shifted again to a color-coded tier system that controls re-opening of various sectors of society.  Now, hospitalizations are no longer the key factor for the reopenings although this was the initial parameter used to indicate when we have “flattened the curve”. Instead, testing data is the new key factor.

Our “adjusted” case rate is actually 4.7. The state actually changes each county’s true case rate based on how much testing a county performs.  Counties that test more than the state average have their case rate reduced.  Counties that test less than the state average have their case rate increased.

Is prioritizing testing over all else a good idea? Recent analysis indicates that the answer is nuanced. Yes, we should do more testing, but the type of testing is what really matters.

Further, the new tiers depend on a “health equity measure,” which has not yet been defined.  Generally, a county will be unable to advance through the tiers unless it can demonstrate an “ability to address the most impacted communities within a county.”  No one knows what this means yet, but we are certain there will be another shift.

Even if a county as large and diverse as Orange County could reach the last, yellow tier, we would not actually reopen. There would be no fans in stands. Concerts would be prohibited. Houses of worship and restaurants would be limited to 50 percent indoor capacity.

Ultimately, there is no “green” tier and no real end game in this new shift.

We need a more moderate approach that allows us to safely reopen.  Extreme swings and unattainable goals are bad for our mental health, for our economy, and for our society.

That is why we have signed on to and ask you to join us.  Only as we stand together against the governor’s overreach will we be able to stay safe and move our state forward.

Will O’Neill is mayor of Newport Beach. Jennifer Fitzgerald is mayor of Fullerton. Beth Haney is mayor of Yorba Linda. Janine Heft is mayor of Laguna Hills. Brian Goodell is mayor of  Mission Viejo.

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  1. I don’t think people understand the seriousness of this pandemic. Until people wear masks, social distances and listen to science , not Trump and his minions, will this be contained. How many of you are wearing a mask as you read this at work? How many of you have seniors somewhere in your family.? Unfortunately, nature works a whole lot differently than humans. Until we know what is safe, keep us where we are. I miss sports etc but I prefer safety and science to whatever is being pushed on us.

  2. So when is this going to be contained to an exceptable level? What is the exceptable level? When do we find this out? These numbers are down to winter flu levels. Latest Anaheim data numbers: 93% of people testing positive test negative 7 days later. Early on the CDC predicted 2 million deaths. The pandemic is largely over

    • You my friend are wrong. But that’s why when the colleges opened up, they had to shut down again. Glad that when someone tests positive and a week later negative, how many folks did they possibly infect?. When will it be safe? Only time will tell. I wish it would just go away. Wait that didn’t happen. Try bleach,. Science is learning like we are.

  3. Larry you are out of your mind, with your thinking all world should be lock down to rest of our lives, not just because of pandemic but any reason at all.

  4. Another tier system, still remember the one after 9/11. Stupidity, If this idiot Newsom will be elected again we are doomed.

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