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As We Reopen, We Can’t Let Our Guard Down Against This Virus



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We are at the point in the pandemic where the cracks in California’s unified response to COVID-19 are showing.

Three northern counties reopened in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders. And, closer to home, the city of Parlier allowed barbershops and hair salons to reopen last week.

Portrait of Darius Assemi

Darius Assemi


People, of course, are picking sides. There are folks who want to open up Fresno and Clovis immediately. And, there are those who say we should shelter in place until we have sufficient testing and can isolate everyone who is infected — or a vaccine is found.

The problem is this: We are flying blind on how to address the virus as it unravels because we don’t have a vaccine or therapy in hand today. This is 9-11 on steroids.

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered some good news at his Monday briefing. He said the state is moving into the second phase of reopening and lower-risk businesses could resume operations on Friday. And, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said Tuesday that many businesses could open their doors again on Monday, May 11.

But the future remains unclear for many California residents and businesses — regarding both their personal safety and their finances.

Infections Will Rise as We Open and Test More

Here’s what we know for sure: The number of infections will rise as we do more testing and as we continue to reopen.

My business has been hurt, along with many others in our community. I have friends who are close to losing their businesses after operating successfully for over 30 years, and close to losing their homes. The pain is real. They ask me why we remain closed with only 777 positive cases out of 1.2 million people in Fresno County.

Restaurants and gyms, as well as many independent retailers, have been hard hit and face uncertain futures. We need to prod our federal government to pay the restaurants to prepare meals for the homeless during this pandemic. This way, we take care of the most vulnerable and underserved and keep restaurants in business.

I also have friends who are scared of going out of their homes in Fresno. They have lost loved ones in New York! I remind them that they can stay in even as shelter in place is removed.

As businesses reopen, we must remain vigilant. We can’t afford to get sloppy with this. We must wear masks, wash our hands, and practice social distancing until the virus is crushed.

We are opening up our main office this week. It’s hard. The protocols are tough and measured but make the safety of my staff the top priority. Many of them can’t wait to get back to the office. One of the challenges is, with schools still closed, who will take care of their kids while they are at work?

Balancing our physical and financial health is a complicated challenge in this environment. But if we look at the big picture and hold ourselves accountable to each other, we can start a phased reopening with strings attached. As we move forward, we must weigh many of the specifics to COVID-19 and the challenges it presents.

We Must Continue to Take COVID-19 Seriously

For example, the actions we take as individuals affect COVID-19’s contagiousness. Here’s what Dr. Robert Pearl, the former CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, wrote in an essay for Forbes:

“R0 (pronounced “R naught”) is a number that indicates the contagiousness of an infectious disease like COVID-19. Specifically, it tells us the average number of unvaccinated (or otherwise vulnerable) people who will contract a disease from one contagious individual.  … when people observe social distancing and adhere to rigid shelter-in-place measures, the number drops.”

Pearl goes on to write that if everyone who is infected transmits COVID-19 to less than one other person, “the virus will slowly die out.” But if those infected, on average, transmit the coronavirus to more than one other person, infections and those needing critical care will increase.

This is why it is vital that as businesses reopen, we must remain vigilant. We can’t afford to get sloppy with this. We must wear masks, wash our hands, and practice social distancing until the virus is crushed.

Yes, we’ve done a good job containing the virus. And, that makes it easy to forget the state of panic we were in just seven weeks ago. Shelter-in-place has worked in Fresno and throughout the state.

Businesses must take their reopenings seriously, as well. This means rigorously cleaning the premises, requiring masks, enforcing social distancing, and educating their employees about how to keep themselves and customers safe. Businesses that operate outdoors very well might need a different treatment plan as set up by their county health departments.

Regardless of the type of business, the county health department needs to be at the table. Why? Because they are the experts and they have all the data on the number of cases, and the spread and recovery rates.

Photo of Gov. Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that lower-risk workplaces will resume operations with modifications as early as Friday. (AP File)

Sequential Reopening Is the Right Way to Do It

One way of reopening is to do it sequentially based on the risk and the infection rates. Open up small stores first. If infections don’t rise, then open the higher-risk shops such as dine-in restaurants, barbershops, hair salons, and gyms.

If infections spike and ICU beds become scarce, we roll back.  As stores open, we need to regulate the number of folks inside at any one time. Again, based on county health department recommendations.

We don’t want to be in a place by October where we are again faced with a massive closure of the economy. That would be disastrous to our nation and to our Valley communities.

It’s crucial that we open in a responsible manner that doesn’t endanger public health. We must keep a close eye on infections and the ability of hospitals to handle a surge in life-threatening cases. The last thing we want is to have to close down again. That will hurt us even more than we’ve suffered so far — financially and emotionally. We don’t want to be in a place by October where we are again faced with a massive closure of the economy. That would be disastrous to our nation and to our Valley communities.

We will beat this virus! American ingenuity is hard at work to do the job! We need to be good participants and be patient in this crisis and do our job — not give this bug any more room to sicken and kill people.

Sign with COVID-19 reopening rules

Following the rules is crucial to a successful reopening and preventing a second COVID-19 lockdown. (Shutterstock)

Testing for Everyone

As it stands, we know that affluent folks can get tested. They have the means and connections. It’s incumbent upon our government to ensure that everyone has access to testing.

We’re making progress on this front in many Valley communities, with several free testing sites opening recently, including two in Fresno County.

However, there are still many miles to go. We need hundreds of testing kiosks funded by the federal government in every city. The Trump administration and Congress have authorized spending trillions on the economy; they can spend a few hundred billion more so that every American gets tested weekly.

Testing is the only way we know who should be at work or school and who should be in self-isolation. Without this knowledge, the virus will continue to surge, retreat, and hit us hard again.

As Fresno County Health Director David Pomaville said, without the ability to test for COVID-19, “it’s like showing up to a wildland fire without a hose, or without water.”

Over the next 60 days, we will have a lot better idea of how to treat COVID-19. And we will begin to find out how contagious it is.

Photo of coronavirus testing station in Los Angeles

A drive-up testing site in Los Angele tests first responders on Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP File)

Our Universal Hope for a Better Tomorrow

Society will be reshaped by this pandemic. E-commerce, remote working, and urbanizing the suburbs will all accelerate. Conversely, the need for offices will decelerate, along with densification and globalization.

As we flatten the curve on this virus, we should look at our world and seek to flatten the curve on poverty, homelessness, health inequality, refugees, injustice, and war, too. The suffering we experience — or witness — is not shared equally. It’s the elderly, the poor, and the ill who suffer most in times like these.

Many Americans are facing hopelessness and not knowing where they could be in a few weeks or months. Countless folks across the world live like this every day — from those in Gaza and war-torn Syria to the refugees of Central America to the families battling hunger in Africa.

This virus reminds me that we are all children of the same God. We inhabit the same earth and hold the same aspirations for ourselves and our families. To live healthily in a free world, with opportunity and hope for a better tomorrow.

Be safe and take care of yourselves and your families. Reach out and connect safely with one another. If you have to isolate socially, stay connected emotionally. We need each other now more than ever.

About the Author 

Darius Assemi is the publisher of GV Wire and president/CEO of Granville Homes.