Look Out Californians: We Could Be Next!

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

The rolling surge of new COVID-19 infections will soon hit Californians as surely as the tides washing up daily on our shores. You can take it to the bank! There is no escape from its deadly onslaught which observes no boundaries. 

The belated arrival at Los Angeles harbor of the 1,000-bed naval hospital ship “Mercy” is a welcome sight which will alleviate some of the overload on local hospitals by taking non-virus patients. 

While helpful, it does not nearly begin to answer the urgent pleas for help for the tsunami yet to come. 

Speeding up the manufacture and delivery of thousands of ventilators and PPEs desperately needed which cannot occur unless the president exercises his full powers under the Defense Production Act would be a much more telling gesture. The failure to do so after repeated requests is incomprehensible. 

In a few weeks if the experts can be believed, California could replace New York as the next epicenter of the virus—a dubious distinction. 

According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals “are doubling overnight.” 

That is an ominous sign as California has recorded over 5,000 cases and 100 deaths in less than a month! 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Trump’s chief medical advisor, is predicting there could be 100,000-200,000 deaths in the United States and millions of infections. “And that’s if we do it perfectly now,” added Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator who sometimes stands in for Fauci. 

These chilling projections are “evidence-based” unlike the steady dose of boastful blather at the daily task force briefings coming from the mouth of a Commander-in-Chief famously allergic to facts. 

California’s contribution to this grim total with its nearly 40 million residents is inevitable. The only question is when the surge will come and what can be done to head it off. 

Based on the current modelling, 40,000 deaths in California alone––just 1% of the population— is not inconceivable.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose have already been identified as “hot-spots” with over-burdened doctors and nurses who do not have the necessary number of ventilators just for ICU patients who might need to stay on them for weeks. The majority of those taken off who have not recovered are considered hopeless cases.

It is too late to get the jump on the disease for which this administration  and Trump were allegedly given ample warnings as early as September 2019. Just two weeks ago he was declaring the disease “a hoax”, and that we might even “get to zero” deaths. 

That comforting prediction has now been somewhat revised. “If we can hold the death toll down to 100,000 to 200,000 we would have done a very good job.” he stated at his March 29th press conference mimicking Fauci. 

Birx underscored the threat adding, “No state, no metro area, will be spared.” 

Not to have seen its menace and taken immediate action to avert the worst consequences will be looked back upon as one of the most myopic and disastrous judgements by any American president in history. 

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked if she thought people have died because of the delays the response was blunt:: “Yes.” 

If such inaction was negligent, not to take maximum steps now which might still lessen the devastating impacts is criminal. At a bare minimum it means keeping “social distancing” strictly in place until the all-clear can be sounded. 

This unprecedented killer which carries an immensely destructive and invisible pathogen will not be waiting for history to tell the story. Either it is conquered or it will conquer us. 

Luckily some of the best medical minds in the nation are at work here and elsewhere around the world at top-flight universities and labs doing the critical and exhaustive research that may one day result in a cure.

Meanwhile there is broad consensus that an essential weapon in combatting the insidious disease will be the ramped-up testing which can provide the data required to anticipate where and to what degree it could hit next. 

One promising development is the announcement that 5-minute FDA-approved diagnostic tests will soon be available that can shorten waiting lines, yield rapid results, reduce stress levels and bring faster relief. 

Still, until the peaks occur which will differ from state to state it would be shear madness not to be making the necessary preparations for the inevitable onslaught.

Relaxing the “15-day” isolation guidelines as Trump has been  aggressively promoting is not the message Californians or any others need to hear.

Newsom’s order on March 20th for all citizens to take “shelter-in-place” should not be viewed as discretionary. For many families it is a life-and-death decision.

With our economy and life as we’ve known it at a complete standstill, that order was mercifully backstopped by the hard-fought bipartisan congressional agreement finally reached releasing $2.2 trillion in federal assistance funds.

Not surprisingly the bipartisanship did not carry over to the law signing ceremony in the White House to which neither Speaker Pelosi nor any other Democrat was invited!

It will not be nearly enough and the state which is losing millions in revenues while millions of workers are compelled to stay home in the interests of safety should not be expected to make up for the shortfall anytime soon.

Newsom must realize this and will have to take the appropriate remedial actions accordingly while assuaging many factions that are sure to protest the cuts. 

In the past and most recently after the 2008 recession, California was able to show great resilience and eventually climbed back to economic health and robust surpluses. 

These gains are being knocked out overnight and it may be a long time before any real normalcy is restored.

The biggest test of this governor’s leadership skills might come after the catastrophe has run its course in a period when the treasury will be badly depleted with no corresponding letup in public demands.

Meanwhile credit the temporary relief to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) who prevailed over the objections of GOP Senate leaders and a recalcitrant president that had different ideas on how the emergency package should be divvied up.

One of the biggest roadblocks was a provision which remains in the bill that would have given $500 billion to corporations without any congressional oversight. 

Trump responded, “I will be the oversight.” 

Deep skepticism about that promise and others he has made is testament on how much faith has been eroded in a leader who does not seem to be taking this crisis seriously enough. The latest polls show a mere 44% who believe he is managing the crisis competently. 

Pelosi has signaled that Congress has no intention of surrendering its oversight functions despite the resistance of the president. Neither have spoken to one another since last October! 

While that is one of the many undesirable features of the crisis the general view is that greater communication would not have changed much in what is a chronically damaged relationship.

The heavily scripted, misinformation-filled, compassionless speeches from the presidential podium are leaving millions frustrated and bewildered as they are rushing to hear New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s daily briefings as a better source of the truth. 

Newsom like Cuomo has largely ignored the unproductive White House task force happy face presentations which typically degenerate into a combination of campaign rallies and ad hominem attacks on journalists seeking explanations which could put him in an unfavorable light.

Newsom, wisely, has been on the phone to Trump understanding that if feeding his seemingly pathological need for constant flattery is a price for getting federal help it’s worth it. 

That’s not only smart politics. It’s sound health policy. 

Meanwhile the hope for some “flattening of the curve” once the speed of the spread and the rise of infections can be slowed remains a very imprecise calculation according to the nation’s top scientists.

California is no doubt many weeks behind such a reckoning with no peak or “apex” in sight. Trump is now saying that “the peak is likely to be in two weeks,” which nixes the earlier Easter deadline for reopening the country which he was touting.

It will not be the last cancellation. The new deadline is April 30th and it is already being dismissed by many in the science establishment. 

If there the glint of any good news it may be that the sound medical advice Trump is getting from his most trusted advisers may be finally getting through to him. 

However, Newsom may be soon increasing the number of phone calls to the Oval Office as the full brunt of the pandemic slams California where we have topped 6,000 cases and surpassed 130 deaths trailing only New York, New Jersey and Michigan. 

In what now seems like an eternity, Trump just weeks ago was offering these assuring words: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES ON EASTER OR ON ANY OTHER DAY MR. PRESIDENT!

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