Miniature golf, regular golf, tennis, skate parks, children’s playgrounds. Pick the two the lockdown left open. And how did you decide? More importantly, how did city officials decide?
Mission Local asked this question at a press conference on Friday where Mayor London Breed and her Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax announced news of the new lockdown. “What activities are most tied to new cases, and is that how these closures were determined?” Juan Carlos Lara asked Dr. Colfax, who tells us often that he follows the data, the science and the facts in directing the city’s response to Covid-19.
“We know that the more we move around, the more we engage in gatherings, interactions, particularly indoors, the more likely it is that we will see the spread of the virus,” Colfax said. He offered no data, no science, no facts for residents to understand why some places were left open and others shuttered.
There’s no doubt that the city faces a crisis, or that something had to be done to stop the spread of Covid-19 so that hospitals don’t become overwhelmed. But the closures announced Friday seemed to contradict what the city had been warning against for months: the danger of indoor activity. Nevertheless, most indoor retail, save restaurants and personal spa services, were left open, albeit with orders to reduce capacity to 20 percent (from 25 percent). But the new lockdown orders closed outdoor dining, outdoor playgrounds and limited outdoor gatherings to 12 people from your household.
But not all outdoor activities. To answer our earlier question: Tennis and golf are fine. Miniature golf and skate parks are closed. As are playgrounds. (Updated 10 am.: This morning, Mayor Breed embraced the state’s guidance and reversal that will reopen playgrounds.)
Surely it wasn’t planned this way. But, as it turns out, the closures disproportionately impacted low-income families. With outdoor dining gone, so too are many jobs. And now, too, many a cook or waiter will be crowded into small apartments with young children who no longer had the respite offered by city playgrounds.
“If I am poor and don’t have a big backyard, where are my children supposed to play?” asked Dr. Monica Gandhi, a researcher and medical director of the HIV Clinic, Ward 86, at the University of California, San Francisco.
District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney posed the same question on Twitter.
The shutdowns, said Jon Jacobo, who heads the health committee for the Latino Task Force, “punish the poor.”
Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the vice dean of population health and health equity at UCSF, added: “Do I think that outdoor dining is what’s causing the surge? No, I don’t. Am I concerned that you move people inside? Yes, I am. But I think there is so much virus around that we have to take some measures.”
Bibbins-Domingo said she thinks the surge has been caused by individuals expanding their networks, thereby increasing the chances of coming into contact with someone who is carrying the virus. And that seems to be happening all over the city with places that have had few cases suddenly clocking many: The Castro, Presidio, and Inner and Outer Mission all added 30 percent or more of their total covid cases in the last 30 days.
Bibbins-Domingo had difficulty understanding the closure of the playgrounds as did District Supervisor Matt Haney who pointed out that his Tenderloin families have no parks to go to. The latter is a problem, especially knowing, that children, playing outdoors and masked, don’t represent much risk. Children “are not a major source of transmission” so it “ is harder to support” closing the playgrounds, she said. But Bibbins-Domingo could live with the decision if it is backed by data.
“I presume they have some data behind” the decisions, she said.
Breed, like Colfax, offered no data in the Dec. 4 announcement. So, we don’t know if gatherings at playgrounds, larger outdoor gatherings or outdoor dining have been factors in this outbreak.
The failure to provide a rationale, experts agreed, feeds a general mistrust of public officials. It makes residents less likely to follow their guidance.
“Transparency would allow the public to buy in,” said Gandhi. “Any person who is told something, who is an adult, who has a reasoned way of thinking … wants to know why” certain actions are being taken.
Gandhi noted that public health officials suggested last month that the increased cases in the Marina were coming from outdoor dining, but then the data stopped coming. “What is contact tracing telling you?” Gandhi rhetorically asked of our city’s public health officials. “Is it outdoor dining? Is it indoor dining? Is it, you know, all indoor gatherings? Tell us what the risks are, because the point of a strategy of testing and contact tracing is to home in on risk factors and close down those sectors where risk can be occurring.”
The information gathered by contract tracers, she pointed out, is paid for by residents. It belongs to us and it helps us understand why the city is making certain decisions.
The lack of transparency around the city’s decision-making process has been an issue from the start of the pandemic. Early on, for example, public health officials and the mayor repeatedly blamed transmission on gatherings at Dolores Park — but, when pressed, they were unable to trace any actual cases to the park.
And getting data on how the city is using its testing resources remains a struggle. Adding data files on testing by ethnicity to the city’s tracker has been promised, but that has yet to happen.
We are still waiting.
Just as we are still waiting for the data, the science and the facts behind the city’s covid strategy.
Update, 9:50 a.m.: The State of California has altered its orders such that playgrounds can stay open. The city of San Francisco has commensurately altered its orders.
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