What does Philadelphia have for you this holiday season?
A second lockdown that it will not call a lockdown. Clampdown, maybe?
And this is happening precisely when public health officials are agreeing that lockdowns are not especially effective. What?
At a Monday news conference, a grim Mayor Jim Kenney cited a “very dangerous stage of the pandemic” that required direct and firm action. The impact on people and businesses was factored in, he said, but turned the presser over to Health Commissioner Thomas Farley to deliver the bad news, and it was very bad.
The U.S. is experiencing an explosive surge in the disease. By December, Philly could count 3,000 cases a day, said Farley, requiring “tough” restrictions, if not “orders,” to stay home.
The surge is the result of pandemic fatigue, as people get lackadaisical about precautions. He produced a chart showing a sharp spike in local deaths.
The greatest spread, said Farley, came from household visits, which he requested people to cease.
Here is what Farley rules out, starting Friday, and lasting through Jan. 1:
- Small social gatherings
- Large social gatherings
- Dining indoors at restaurants
- No spectators at pro sporting events
- Working, except for “essential” services.
- Car pools
The city was trying to avoid a lockdown such as last spring’s, said Farley, even as he announced restrictions very much like last spring’s — with the difference being schools for youngsters would remain open.
He said this was the result of what was learned by a number of European nations that had “restricted” people, but not young students.
The idea here is to follow the science, and the experience of others.
The problem is, the experience of others has been mixed. In some countries, from small (New Zealand) to large (China), tight lockdowns have been effective. Other countries, notable Sweden, have done almost nothing.
In Philly, the full list of restrictions will be published on the city website Tuesday.
I hate to use the P-word, panic, but that almost seems to be what is motivating a lot of government policy. Political leaders do not want their name attached (as has President Donald J. Trump’s — rightly or wrongly) to a long list of American dead. They would rather be in charge of a shattered economy, as that can be cured by cash. Nothing brings a dead person back.
So, yes, even if driven by panic, the restrictions are designed to flatten the death curve, and will probably do so. They may not be the best policy, but they do work. We saw that in the spring. They are clumsy, but they do slow the pace of infection, and death.
That is why I will observe them.
I don’t want to kill you — or me.