Gina Nestande is the mayor of Palm Desert. She wants Gov. Gavin Newsom to open things up and let us all get back to work. She expressed this opinion in a piece published online yesterday—a piece that has gotten a fair amount of attention since.
Sounds fairly straight forward, right? Nope. No no no no.
Let’s break things down a bit, shall we?
Before we get into the specifics of Ms. Nestande’s argument, I want to talk a little bit about the forum she used to make it. If you haven’t already, please, click on this link. Look around just a little. Take it all in.
I hadn’t heard much about FlashReport.org before this, and I must say, I have become an instant fan. I am not sure what my favorite part is. The the circa-2005 HTML design? The section unironically headlined “Oversight of Czar Newsom”? The tile ad toward the top left of the page for a state Assembly candidate … from 2016?
But I digress; let’s look at Nestande’s actual argument. In both the original piece and a subsequent TV interview, Nestande makes several fascinating points, including the fact that we could eliminate 40,000 car-accident deaths per year “if we mandated that cars be built with one-foot bumpers all around the outside and fitted with a roll bar cage on the inside, with a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour.”
And then there’s this: “We reacted to the ‘worst case” scenarios in which hospitals would run out of beds and ventilators, placing up to 2.2 million lives in jeopardy. In reality, as of April 18, there have been just over 38,000 deaths. The data is clear that this doomsday scenario is not taking place and it is time to pivot.” (Only one problem here: She fails to acknowledge the possibility that the doomsday scenario isn’t taking place because of shelter-in-place orders.)
The main crux of her argument, however, is that because of the Stanford study—the first one showing that, based on antibody tests, a lot more people may have already been infected with COVID-19 than initially believed—we now know the virus really is not that dangerous. You know, despite the overwhelmed hospitals in China and Italy and New York and etc.
“We now know that we can mitigate the disease by focusing on the elderly and those with obesity. Other populations can and should go back to work,” she writes, citing another study.
Ah, if only things were this simple.
First: Regular readers of this space know that all studies need to be taken, as the saying goes, with a gigantic grain of salt. That obesity study—while it is backed up by anecdotal evidence, and may very well be proven true—“is preliminary, and not peer reviewed,” according to The New York Times.
Second: That Stanford study Nestande speaks so glowingly about is also preliminary, and not peer reviewed—and so far, the reviews peers are giving it are NOT GOOD. A lot of stats nerds—I say that lovingly, being one (on an amateur basis) myself—are calling into question the figures and conclusions of the study.
Then there’s the interpretation of the results themselves, even if we assume they’re accurate. Check out this, from the San Jose Mercury News:
Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith remains steadfast in his interpretation of the study’s findings: It suggests that asymptomatic people spread the virus, and that more than 95% of the population remains susceptible to infection.
“That all means that there is more risk than we initially were aware of,” said Smith, lamenting how some are using the study to challenge Bay Area health officials’ unprecedented stay-home orders.
Look, I want things to be open again, safely, as much as anyone. But when Gina Nestande claims that we can open things back up again because, more or less, Stanford scientists said we could, she’s either being dumb, or she’s being disingenuous. You decide.
• The Los Angeles Times has done a fantastic yet sad piece on the conditions at the infamous Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal, where clean drinking water is hard to come by—and the farmworker residents are living in fear.
• The county has allowed golf courses to reopen for limited use. However, Palm Springs has not. The city will ponder the issue, and other issues involving outdoor activities, at a meeting on Thursday.
• I actually have mixed feelings about this one: Facebook has confirmed it is removing some posts regarding protests against stay-at-home orders.
• A new analysis shows that much of the loan money from the first stimulus bill went to publicly traded companies—NOT small businesses. Grrrrrr.
• This interesting opinion piece posted by NPR looks at the future of cities in a post-COVID-19 world.
• The New York Times Magazine looks at efforts—past, present and future—to stop pandemics before they get started. One word on why we’re in the mess we’re in right now: Money.
• Local visual artists, take note: Desert X is offering grants of $1,000 to some Southern California artists in need.
• The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has recommended against the drug combination—hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin—touted by the president.
• Please be careful when doing unusual things with bleach. Poison control calls are on the rise.
• And now for something completely different: The New York Post sets out to answer the question (via Australian doctors, because, why the hell not) that nobody was asking: Can the coronavirus be spread via farts?
• Enough of this nonsense. Let’s all go watch Stanley Tucci make a negroni.
That’s enough for today. If you want to take part in our Adopt a Small Business program, the deadline for our May print issue is Thursday morning. Our Coloring Book is selling like (sanitarily packaged, takeout-ordered) hotcakes; get yours here. (We’ll be sending out the digital links tomorrow!) Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must go out. More tomorrow.