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Here’s what life in California could be like as things start to return to normal

We don’t know quite when life in California will start returning to normal, but we do know that when it does, it’ll look a bit different than what we’re used…

We don’t know quite when life in California will start returning to normal, but we do know that when it does, it’ll look a bit different than what we’re used to, potentially with temperature checks, less densely packed hangouts and a summer free of major in-person events. “Normal, it will not be—at least until we have herd immunity and we have a vaccine,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom in an address on Tuesday.

So what exactly will this new normal look like? “You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask,” Newsom suggested. “Dinner where the menu is disposable, where half of the tables in that restaurant no longer appear. Where your temperature is checked before you walk into the establishment. These are likely scenarios as we begin to process the next phase and next iteration.”

UPDATE: On Wednesday, L.A. County Department of Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer sketched out a scenario of life in L.A. specifically (she estimated the county could start taking action in mid or late May that look at how to relax the health officer orders). “More retail shops will be open at some point in the near future, but there will be limits on how many people can be in a store at any given time,” she said in a press conference. “Our arts and cultural sites will reopen at some point in the future, but events may be spectator-free and exhibitions will require physical distancing, meaning that there will be many fewer people that will be able to view any installations at a given time. And the trails and the bike paths, when they’re able to reopen, they may need to be one way, so that people can keep physical distance from one another.” (This has already happened at Silver Lake Reservoir, for example, where the paved loop has been converted into a one-way path.)

Compared to our current cooped-up-at-home reality, Newsom described that next phase as a more optimistic one in which guidelines are loosened in precise, targeted and gradual ways—and possibly tightened again if needed. It all hinges on a six-point statewide framework that seems more about a transparent check of our progress than providing immediate answers. “You’ll get a sense of the questions we’re asking, and the questions we need answered before we can ultimately move out of a population approach, where we’re asking everyone to stay at home, to a more individual approach, to addressing the issues of suppression in the state of California and ultimately get us back to that sense of normalcy” he said.

In order to transition out of those stay-at-home orders, the state will be constantly reevaluating its ability to expand testing, protect vulnerable populations, address ongoing hospital needs, coordinate with research partners, develop new physical distancing guidelines and be ready to move back and forth between stricter and looser guidelines (“There’s no light switch here. I’d argue it’s more like a dimmer,” he said).

Those last two points in particular may change how we interact in public in the near future. Newsom suggests that businesses may have to literally redraw their floorplans. Offices will need to think about providing things like hand wipes for when we push a button in an elevator. Telecommuting may become more of the norm, as may distance learning. And speaking of schools, come the fall, they might need to look at measures like staggering the times that students show up. Parks, playgrounds, benches, swings, sidewalks, streets and all sorts of businesses and buildings will need to be disinfected.

Of course, as most of us are still stuck at home, the big question is when we’ll be able to start venturing out again at all. The short answer: We simply don’t know yet. California’s size and diversity of population centers means that, in coordination with state guidelines, local health departments will ultimately make the decisions at the times that are right for them. Furthermore, rapidly changing circumstances—either positively or negatively—could alter that schedule at any moment.

“I know there’s going to be dozens of questions: more specific, tell us exactly when,” said Newsom. “Let me just answer that question. In two weeks, if we see a continued decline—not just flattening, but decline—in hospitalizations and ICUs, and we see this workforce and the infrastructure and PPE needs met (as we anticipate around the first week in May to start seeing the benefits and fruits of that), ask me the question then and we will be in a very different place where we can be more prescriptive on giving people timelines. I know you want the timeline, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Let’s not make the mistake of pulling the plug too early as much as we all want to.”

The one timeline Newsom was able to confidently speak to now was that we’re unlikely to see large scale events returning before the end of August. “The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” he said. “So large scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers all together… is not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and current expectations.” But breakthroughs in therapeutics and vaccines could change that. “This is not a permanent state, and we’re finally seeing some rays of sunshine on the horizon.”

 

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