It has been almost 10 months since COVID-19 began harming families in the United States, putting parents out of work and shutting children out of the schools that taught and cared for them. And the children most affected are those facing economic and other inequities that have only become more pronounced since the pandemic began. If we continue on the current path, some children may never catch up.
As of Dec. 26, more than 30,000 Long Beach residents have been confirmed with a case of COVID and more than 350 have died from COVID-related illnesses. And as much as we don’t want to think about it, this figure may ultimately increase to more than 1,000 based on an estimated 0.003% death rate and an assumption that up to 70% of Long Beach residents may become infected at some point.
And as tragic as this potential outcome is, we should also be concerned about the implications of a worsening economy and be thinking about what our economic future will look like if we don’t figure out how to reopen our economy while simultaneously fighting the virus. A Stanford University professor of medicine recently criticized California’s lockdowns as a "failure of imagination and creativity in policy."
If we don’t change course, some of the potential economic realities are: reduced Police and Fire services (LA is already discussing the layoff of 900+ police officers), increased suicides and other mental health ailments (particularly among school age children who are not functioning well in a Zoom environment), and declining government quality of life services for years to come. Many Long Beach business owners (think restaurants) have lost or will lose their businesses, along with their life savings, as the government-mandated economic crisis continues. And of course, the tens of thousands of individuals and their families, many of whom were laid off the day before Thanksgiving, who live paycheck to paycheck, and are now without a paycheck.
We are in a two-front war — COVID 19 and economic restoration. However, government only seems to be focused on the former. We will win the COVID war at some point in 2021, but I am less confident of the outcome for Long Beach residents who depend on a functioning economy.
One of the potential solutions is the development of a voluntary public registry system. If you’ve already had COVID, and have the antibody test result to prove it, you may safely return to work as well as participate in our local economy by shopping, dining (indoors and out), working out at your local gym, visiting your local salon, etc. Long Beach has more than 30,000 documented cases of COVID, and climbing. According to the Santa Clara study, and more recent studies, 5 to 8 times as many residents are likely to have already had COVID, which equates to 150,000 to 240,000 people.
Over 1/3 of our residents can likely immediately return to their lives and either support the economy by working, or support the economy by purchasing. And at our current daily growth rate, the number of confirmed cases will likely increase by at least 50% over the next 30 days. And yes, the antibodies don’t last forever so you may not be able to continuously participate in the economy, but taking an antibodies test every 30 days can be part of the “renewal” process. And yes it is likely that thousands of the existing confirmed cases no longer have the antibodies. However, we have far more people contracting the virus at this point than we have people with diminished antibodies, so the net number will continue to grow.
And to add to this group of currently healthy residents, people can be added when they receive the vaccine. This may be a relatively small number over the next 30 days, but will grow significantly until we reach herd immunity sometime next year.
In conclusion, we need to continue to fight the virus. Social distancing, wearing a mask when appropriate and sanitizing your hands regularly needs to continue. However, we should also invest as much energy in restoring our economy, addressing society’s mental health needs, and improving the education of our children in a safe and healthy manner.
We can and should do both — fight the virus and fight to restore our economy. These should not be mutually exclusive goals.
Gary DeLong is a former Third District City Councilman.