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Protests delivered a swift end to pandemic panic

Welcome to the end of the coronavirus pandemic as we know it. 

At least, that’s what the State of California and Gov. Gavin Newsom are signalling. 

With the country reeling over the horrific death of George Floyd, the pandemic has seemingly become yesterday’s news. 

The 24-hour news cycle remains undefeated, once again moving on to the next story even though California is still in the midst of a partial lockdown. 

In less than a week, the focus on reopening and returning to normal socially and economically has apparently dissipated. 

One clear sign that the state was beginning to move on from coronavirus was when Newsom stopped delivering his daily briefings a few weeks ago. That move was coupled with the Newsom administration’s rapid approval for counties to advance into Phase 2.5 of his approval plan

Shortly following that, Newsom announced last Friday that counties could move into Phase 3 at their own pace, putting the state’s path to a complete reopening on a much faster path. 

If this rate keeps up, Phase 4 – total reopening – could be easily within our sights. 

The ultimate turn, however, arrived on Monday. Newsom held a press conference billed to discuss the protests and civil unrest currently captivating the country and the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic.

One would think, with daily briefings a thing of the past, there would be some update – anything – related to what Phase 3 would resemble.

No such update came. 

Before he took questions, Newsom exclusively discussed Floyd’s death, the protests, riots, lootings and the tragedy as a whole. It is completely understandable for him to spend most of the press conference on those topics, but it makes no sense for him to not discuss COVID-19. 

Newsom took a dozen questions from the media. The first three asked about his thoughts on President Donald Trump’s leadership. Seven questions focused on the protests and riots. One question concerned the state’s budget. 

And one lone question asked him about COVID-19, although even that one was rooted in the protests: How worried is he about the protests spreading coronavirus? 

Newsom encouraged people to continue to get tested, saying the state tested over 67,000 people on Sunday, even though many testing sites in Southern California were shut down due to concerns about the protests and riots. 

That was it. That was the extent of a coronavirus update in Newsom’s press conference. 

To top things off, Fresno County cancelled its scheduled COVID-19 briefing on Monday with Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra “due to limited availability.” 

Vohra and the county have been doing regular coronavirus briefings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for months, not missing one save for an exception on Memorial Day. 

Without an update from the state or county on Monday, there has been no official word or guidance regarding the pandemic since last week. 

Where does Fresno County stand in its efforts to further reopen and move into Phase 3? For that matter, what about the rest of the state? 

Last week ended on a note of confusion, with Vohra saying the county had heard conflicting information from the state compared to what the governor had announced about counties moving into Phase 3. 

It sounded like Vohra was going to receive more clarification from the state about the process, which he would then update the media about the situation.

Well, that didn’t happen. 

It probably is just a simple coincidence that the county cancelled its briefing and Newsom failed to deliver anything substantive regarding coronavirus in his, but Vohra surely would’ve had something to say about 3,000 people gathered together for a protest in Fresno. 

If we go by the state’s guidelines for reopening, a crowd that size constitutes a Phase 4 mass-gathering – a no-no by the pandemic rules of the State of California (momentarily setting aside the irony).

So here’s what we gain from a public-health standpoint following the protests: If COVID-19 numbers – namely hospitalizations and fatalities – don’t skyrocket in the coming days and weeks, the pandemic will truly be over as we know it.

But from a level of public consciousness, it’s likely been over for days.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.