Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

California Health Equity Metric is the Last Straw in the Government's Lockdown Camel

California Governor Newsom's new requirement for reopening is like holding a carrot in front of a donkey who will never be able to reach it

The latest in a series of ever-changing requirements for reopening is the California Health Equity Metric. Before the new metric was announced by Governor Newsom at the end of September, a county only had to show an overall lowering in cases and test positivity rates in order to move from one "tier" to the next restrictive tier. Now, a county must also demonstrate that those census tracts in the "lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index" can meet or come near the rates for the county as a whole.

The Healthy Place Index (HPI) is a composite measure of socioeconomic opportunity that is applied to census tracts. It includes 25 different factors, including economic, social, education, transportation, housing, and environmental.

The state government has shifted the goalposts for ending the lockdown ever since the extreme "safer-at-home" order of March 19. First citing a need to ramp up hospital capacity, the goal shifted to reducing the spread of coronavirus. Given the extreme infectiousness of the disease, this goal is inherently unrealistic. Government officials are holding a carrot on a stick in front of a donkey who will never be able to reach it no matter how fast he runs.

Once a month or so, newscasters breathlessly announce that some business type or class of museum is now able to open, in a severely limited capacity. About a week later, even this small boon is rescinded. Salons may no longer cut hair. Museums, even outdoors, may no longer allow visitors. Why? Because new coronavirus cases have exceeded whatever internal benchmark politicians have decided makes them look bad. Is the uptick in cases really because of the hair salons and museums? Who knows? Who cares? Officials have to look like they are doing something.

Of course, there is nothing they can actually do. This virus exists, it is highly infectious, and it is going to move through the population until it is stopped by the herd immunity of everyone contracting it or the herd immunity artificially supplied by an effective vaccine.

Under the current provisions of state and local authorities, the County of Los Angeles, home to 10 million residents, is never going to move to a less restrictive tier - or not until that herd immunity occurs. Holding reopening out as a possibility is a lie. Clinging to this lie, tinkering with it, and re-issuing it in the hope it will look different to an exhausted public becomes offensive over time. Adding a metric to provide "equity" between racial/socioeconomic groups is even more offensive as obvious theater and pandering.

The lockdown and restriction on the operation of businesses, educational institutions, and religious organizations is a bald and outrageous revocation of the public's civil rights. The tenacity with which government officials hold onto the idea we are all somehow, magically, supposed to rid ourselves of an epidemic that is so clearly out of our control points to their underlying desire to continue ridding us of our civil rights, for as long as possible.

COVID-19 is undeniably a dangerous disease, far more deadly than the seasonal flu, indisputably hazardous enough that rational people will do what they can to avoid contracting it or passing it along. But no disease is an excuse for taking away the public's right to choose how much or what risks they wish to take. If museums don't want to become super-spreaders of coronavirus, they can stay closed. If elderly women don't want to risk contracting COVID-19 by getting their hair done, they can stay home. It's time to give people information (including allowing them to see information the government does not agree with - the definitional requirement of free speech). It's time to stop giving people unconstitutional and untenable rules. It's time to return our civil rights.

Actually, it's past time.


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