Experts tell us that reactions to COVID-19 will bring changes in how people live which in turn will affect public policy debates in California. Efforts to build denser housing communities, more public transportation, universal healthcare, and one-use plastic bags will be affected by coronavirus concerns.

Already California’s move to eliminate single use plastic bags has been upended by efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic. Famously, San Francisco, which pioneered the demand for reusable shopping bags has pulled back because of concerns that re-used bags could carry the virus putting both grocery store clerks and customers in possible jeopardy. 

Even if the virus is corralled by medical treatments or vaccines, the issue of reusable bags carrying germs has been planted in the public conscience and people may resist their use in the future.

One side effect from people obeying the stay at home orders from state and local officials is that the air got cleaner—a longtime policy objective in California. After the virus threat is over, if more individuals and businesses accept the value of working at home, pollution could be kept down from previous levels.

However, when the lockdown ends, there will be more cars on the road—perhaps even more because of lessons learned in controlling the virus. The effort to encourage people to use public transportation—already dwindling before the coronavirus plague struck—could suffer additional dropouts if commuters believe they would be safer in their cars than packed on buses or trains.

Density is also an issue with housing. California has witnessed battle royals in the legislature the last few years over attempts to create more housing by allowing for multi-family homes and apartments in single family neighborhoods. San Francisco senator Scott Wiener has led the fight with his bills. In a world in which we are told to stay six feet apart, how will attitudes change when thinking about policies to create denser living along mass transportation routes?

Health care issues will be viewed differently. The abandoned effort to build up medical equipment reserves in California is sure to be revisited. The large issue of universal health care with some sort of government assistance may get a boost from circumstances surrounding the pandemic. 

In many ways, COVID-19 will leave its mark on public policy decisions in the Golden State.