When can we go back to normal?
It was just a week ago that I felt a glimmer of what life was like in the Before Times, when the sun shone, the weather was warm, and Labor Day weekend seemed to bring the classic Indian Summer we expect in Monterey County. It could almost make you forget the Covid-19 pandemic and wildfires that are forcing varying degrees of misery.
I didn’t stray far from home, but it was hot enough that I needed a dip in the ocean; an unprecedented region-wide beach closure allowed water recreation, so I went to Asilomar to go boogie boarding. When I arrived, there were two signs posted at the end of the beach documenting the closure, but otherwise the beach was open—people were sunbathing, gathering for meals, playing games, walking dogs. There was a gaggle of State Parks rangers intermittently along the beach and along Ocean View Boulevard at the entrances to the beach, but they seemed utterly disinterested in enforcing the closure.
It’s hard to know why they appeared to have decided to give up. (I called to ask, and never received a response.) In Monterey, officials staffed up the police department for the holiday weekend and combed beaches, asking 2,000 people to leave; almost all complied, and 17 citations were issued for those who didn’t.
Those thousands of police requests despite six months of messaging about no gatherings, despite a widespread public information campaign to notify the public beaches were closed, despite a pandemic that continues to infect thousands of Californians daily and kill hundreds.
I get it—I wanted my piece of beach time too. I am long past wishing we could have a normal weekend on the beach, restriction-free, and a day in the sun (although lately a sunny day also feels like something of the Before Times).
After six months of sheltering in place, I am tired of fighting this virus. I miss the things I can’t do. The economic impacts and social impacts continue to be a burden. And this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told MSNBC that even with a Covid-19 vaccine available by the end of this year, things likely won’t return to “normal” until mid to late 2021.
It’s hard to feel hopeful with a timeline like that, and the good news is this: SIP does seem to be having an impact. In California’s new Covid-19 tiering system, Monterey County is purple, or Tier 1—that’s the worst, as far as cases and as far as restrictions on most indoor businesses and activities. The risk level is deemed “widespread.”
We are making progress toward Tier 2, where the risk is still deemed “substantial,” but there would be more sectors allowed to operate. Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno issued a statement of encouragement this week—he’s not one for effusive terms, so this is about as optimistic as you’re likely to hear him get: “Ongoing efforts of Monterey County businesses and residents to reduce transmission of Covid-19 will help lead us closer to Tier 2, which would loosen restrictions on activities.”
By the numbers, here’s where we need to be for two consecutive weeks to be in Tier 2: Up to 7 new cases per 100,000 residents each day, and a test positivity rate up to 8 percent.
For the week of Aug. 11, here’s where we were: 20.7 new cases daily per 100,000, and a test positivity rate of 12.5 percent. Dismal numbers. The week of Aug. 25, things started looking better: 15.9 new cases per 100,000, and 9.9-percent test positivity.
The trendline, both in Monterey County and in California overall, is trending downward. That’s a good thing, but also comes with a caveat that we should not become complacent. Thousands of people out beaching in violation of a regional beach closure while law enforcement officers look on? That felt like the epitome of complacent. And makes me nervous that we’ll lose the progress we’ve gained.
Take care, and stay healthy out there.
-Sara Rubin, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org