The Crowds in the Great Outdoors Defeat Social Distancing

Beaches, Trails, Piers, and Parks Are Too Tempting and Must Close

Credit: Peter Kuper, PoliticalCartoons.com

The coronavirus is not a bad dream. It is a plague. It is not passing away. People around the world and in our county are dying.

The City of Santa Barbara has done the right thing in closing picnic areas in city parks to avoid the congregating of people. However, given that the virus spreads like “wildfire,” the city has not gone far enough. The City of Ventura has closed all parks and beaches. Los Angeles County and City have closed all beaches, adjacent trails, piers, and parks to deter the crowding that goes on as people ignore Governor Newsom’s “shelter in place” order. Santa Barbara County and City (along with the other cities in the county) need to follow these precedents and close all beaches, adjacent trails, piers, and parks.

The numbers rise so fast that one cannot keep up with them. As of this writing, April 5, globally there are more than one million cases with more than 60,000 deaths. In the U.S. we have confirmed more than 300,000 cases, with more than 9,000 deaths (more than were recorded in China). Here in California, there are “now” more than 14,000 confirmed cases, with more than 300 deaths. Today, Santa Barbara County has confirmed more than 218 cases with two deaths. Given that we do not have adequate testing materials, it is probable that the amount of our infections far exceeds this number.

The federal government has projected a minimum of between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths, if we shelter and social distance before this is over. If we fail to take precautions the projections are between 160 million and 214 million infections with death rates reaching as high as 1.7 million.

While it is unrealistic to expect 40 million people to simply stay in their homes for a month or two, it is more than reasonable for Santa Barbara County and cities to do whatever they can to ensure that people, when they venture out, stay the requisite six feet apart and do not congregate.

Last Sunday, suffering from “cabin fever,” my wife and I took a drive to Shoreline Park to look at the ocean. We were shocked at what we saw: People playing soccer, walking in groups, biking close together, and children playing in the recreational area. In other words, recreation as usual.

The coronavirus epidemic is anything but recreation as usual. It is a lethal global pandemic. Santa Barbara cities and the county should impose these closure restrictions because the virus is nature out of control — infinitely more powerful than we are — and our ethical mandates require it.

As argued in a recent column (The Lessons of Coronavirus), climate change is forcing humans into closer contact with animals which carry viruses like COVID-19 which jump to humans. Because the virus is new to humans, our bodies and medical science don’t know how to fight it. Except for sheltering and social distancing, we are defenseless.

The New Testament, Talmud, Koran, and the teachings of Confucius all embody the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), because without it, society lapses into chaos. We are not in this fight alone. As a society, we are bound to not only care for ourselves, but for others in the community.

Santa Barbara has first rate, but limited hospitals. The virus is certain to root and expand rapidly in our communities before it peaks. This will overwhelm the hospitals and endanger the doctors, nurses, medical staff, and patients who can’t be cared for. The crisis playing out in New York, with not enough medical equipment or protective gear, tent hospitals in Central Park, and refrigerated trucks for a growing number of dead bodies, is not something we are immune from. The virus is amongst us. It is going to run its course with deadly results. The only way we know how to fight it is social distancing.

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