PD Editorial: Coronavirus battle is just beginning

California is bumping up against a grim reality: the coronavirus isn’t close to defeated.

This past week brought record numbers of deaths and new infections, with hospitals in some parts of the state nearing capacity.

Sonoma County is one of the hot spots.

The number of cases here has jumped almost 40% since July 1, the number of deaths has nearly doubled, and active infections now outnumber recoveries by a wide margin.

On Friday, after missing eight benchmarks, the county landed on the state’s coronavirus watch, with a strong likelihood that some commercial activities, including indoor dining, will be prohibited again as soon as Monday.

So much for the virus being overblown.

The curve, once flattened, is rising sharply. If it continues, even tighter restrictions will follow. In Alameda County, for example, outdoor dining is off-limits once again.

California and the rest of the nation are, in the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, “right in the middle … of a very serious problem.”

The catalyst for the surge is no secret: an increasing refusal to wear masks and maintain safe social distances as state and local health officials, acceding to demands to reopen the economy, started relaxing stay-at-home orders.

After being cooped up at home for about two months, people returned to bars and restaurants, stores and tasting rooms. Too many of them ignored public health guidelines.

Some people were careless, others were malicious — threatening public health officials and harassing retailers who insisted that customers were masks.

President Donald Trump’s refusal to wear a mask fueled the fight, and resistance from other public figures, including Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, hasn’t helped.

California, praised for taking fast action upon detecting the first coronavirus infections in March, now draws comparisons to Florida, Texas and other states that ignored, and even denied, the threat until it was too late.

Hindsight is easy, but it’s apparent that the Golden State reopened too fast, and too many people assumed the virus was under control.

With the addition of Sonoma County, 30 of the state’s 58 counties are now on the coronavirus watch list. Health officials in some counties have directed some recently opened businesses to close again while delaying permission for others to reopen. The impact on schools, sports and amusement parks isn’t yet clear.

Santa Rosa optimistically pressed ahead with plans to close three blocks of Fourth Street downtown beginning Friday for three months of open-air dining.

If the coronavirus doesn’t spin out of control, Fourth Street can be a safe space for people weary of the lockdown, with temporary parklets and public art installations serving as a model for other locations, perhaps Roseland or Railroad Square, while providing a badly needed boost for locally owned businesses.

Success will depend on the people’s willingness to heed the advice of public health experts and confidence that other people understand that wearing masks and social distancing can help control the spread of the virus until effective treatments or, better yet, a vaccine can be developed, manufactured and distributed.

The latest numbers are sobering: 3.1 million cases and 133,000 deaths in the United States, including almost 7,000 deaths in California. The battle against the coronavirus isn’t over. To prevail, Fauci said, “we’ve got to get the population to realize that we’re all in this together.”

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