This article was originally published in Los Gatos Magazine’s June 2020 edition.
It has been hard and draining for all of us to be so immersed in this pandemic. But there have been so many bright spots, too.
On my way to the grocery store the other day, I passed a closed store with this sign in the window: LOS GATOS STRONG. The night before, I heard singing coming from the hills above my house. It was Joel Nelson staging a virtual fundraiser for the Second Harvest Food Bank. It’s truly incredible how we are weathering this unknown together, how kind people have been, and how neighbors have found so many ways to lift our spirits. I loved dancing alone on my back deck to Joel’s music, and it renewed a sense of community and connection.
Los Gatans are fortunate to live in this beautiful town. But the health impacts and concerns, as well as the striking economic impacts we’ve seen here, show that we aren’t untouched by the effects of the coronavirus.
Many people across the county are understandably anxious to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Our state and our residents are in dire financial straits. In the six weeks after the first reporting of Covid-19, the state has received as many unemployment applications as it did after 59 weeks into the Great Recession. The California state budget will have a major shortfall when the General Fund revenues are less than the costs to maintain state services. The “rainy day” fund will be depleted. According to the State Legislative Analyst, the state has already incurred significant costs in responding to the virus – including funding leases for medical centers and buying medical supplies. Looking to the future – as more people become unemployed, many more will apply for food assistance, MediCal, and other programs. All of this comes at a time when the revenue from taxes will be lower by tens of billions of dollars over the next few years.
The funding shortfall for the state will impact local government as well, since money passes through from the state to cities and counties. And, even though there will be federal funding provided for state and local governments, very little will compensate for the lower revenues. Additionally, since there are so many programs with protected funding, Constitutional requirements, and contractual obligations which the Legislature has previously agreed to, there will be great risks to the funding for the CSU and UC systems, the Courts, transportation, housing and many other programs that are just as vital.
Governing California has always been tough. In the next few years, it will become so much tougher as our elected officials will need to close a massive budget gap while addressing greatly expanded need. We are going to need many, many adults in the room – that is certain. The pandemic has given us a crucial awareness that all of our lives and our fate are intertwined. So, assuring the health of all is crucial. But, the knowledge about the coronavirus is still evolving and the truth about how it spreads and how to prevent it is still in question. This is not for want of trying. It’s the nature of science. Scientific knowledge is the result of testing, analyzing theories and data, making sure that causation is the determiner of solutions, not mere correlations. All of this analysis takes time.
That’s why our health and elected officials, who are the source of the “lockdown” orders and information to the public, should be communicating that there are a spectrum of possibilities that inform their guidance, and that they are providing the best guidance possible without having absolute certainty about the solutions. While these officials are doing their best, lack of clarity can cause confusion and distrust. Part of the role of these officials is to manage expectations.
Californians are fundamentally wise. And we need to make sure we trust each other with the truth – as difficult as that truth is right now. And, our officials are not the only source of coronavirus information for millions of Americans. The lack of clarity has led to many people being susceptible to false conspiracy theories about the virus which are circulating on the Internet. We are online more as we shelter in place, and the online disinformation being spread is deliberately being used to sow discord and divisions in our country and to increase distrust in our institutions and government. We need to be particularly careful to check the validity of the information and make sure that it comes from credible sources.
We have already seen foreign state actors trying to spread misinformation – in an obvious attempt to turn Americans against Americans.
Fortunately – we are better than that. But as always, we need to be vigilant against misinformation and require the platforms where this misinformation is spread to be responsible.
There are many tough choices ahead – most of all how to balance the need to open our economy and get our friends and neighbors back to work with the requirement that we protect the health of the community, particularly seniors and those who are most vulnerable.
There are certainly also many sacrifices ahead as we work as a community to rebuild our economy and recover from a health pandemic.
To make these sacrifices meaningful we need to make sure that the California that emerges from this lock down can be stronger in the long run. Creating that California will take the creativity, knowledge, work and grit from the whole community.
But if the way we have reacted as a community so far to this crisis is any guide – it is clear we will rise to the occasion.