California Residents Begin to See Troubling Unintended Consequences as State Reopens

May 30, 2020 Updated: June 1, 2020

Commentary

With golf courses having received the “thumbs up” recently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on May 26 that hair salons, barbershops, and other grooming stores in the state could finally reopen.

However, that won’t help Matthew Viers’s neighbors, Courtney and Kai, who had a nail salon in Costa Mesa but were unable to pay the lease on the space because they hadn’t secured a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) small business loan.

“It’s hard to watch people lose everything they’ve worked their whole lives for,” said 42-year-old Viers, a hairstylist for 22 years.

Viers has his own line of salon products and has worked with models during Fashion Week in both Los Angeles and New York. But his bread and butter comes from in-salon visits.

“I hated that I had to sneak around to make a living during the shutdown to support my wife and daughter. It felt very un-American,” said Viers, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016. Viers is critical of the statewide mandates, and he protested when the Orange County beaches were closed.

“The counties should have been allowed to govern themselves. The rates of infection and death have remained low here, so Orange County decided to open the beaches. But then Newsom overrode the county and encouraged people to tattle on each other.”

The result didn’t just pit neighbor against neighbor, it put many of them in harm’s way, with joggers having to take to the streets since all the boardwalks had been closed.

“First, he was killing us by keeping us inside, then he’s killing us by having us run down the middle of the street,” said Viers. “My street was blocked off several times and there were ambulances, so I know people were getting hurt.”

Dale Harvey of Laguna Beach has also seen people jogging in the streets where he lives. A staunch Democrat, Harvey is quick to acknowledge the pressures and difficulties of having to make such decisions during a once-in-a-century pandemic. Nonetheless, he too, is critical of the governor’s response.

“We flattened the curve like he wanted, but then he changed the goal post,” Harvey said. “I’m not a violent person, so I would never actually do it, but I have fantasized about slapping him if I ever saw him.”

Willingness to Work

COVID-19 has hit Californians especially hard. Not in the number of patients testing positive or the number of deaths from the virus, but in the form of unintended consequences resulting from a strict statewide lockdown that began early and has only recently been eased by officials.

For some, like Harvey, who normally produces 18 major equestrian jumping events a year, employing 100 people per week, the reopening may be too late.

Harvey recently learned that a proposal he had carefully drafted for Sacramento, outlining how an event scheduled for July might be allowed to go forward in a reimagined and restructured way, consistent with safety protocols and not open to the public, won’t even be reviewed by officials, because it’s already been rejected by the City of Huntington Beach.

“They’re telling me, ‘We’re not at that phase yet.’ Well, if we’re not at that phase, why’s the Santa Anita Race Track open?” he said.

The likely answer is the amount of tax revenue provided by the race track. Naturally, this riles Harvey all the more.

“It’s the same thing that happened in 2008 during the financial collapse. The mammoth operations overshadowed the little guy then, too,” he said. “I think we should close all the big box stores and only open the smaller shops, so that they don’t all go out of business.”

Viers’s and Harvey’s frustrations are echoed by dozens of Southern California business owners, small and large, Republican and Democrat, in Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange County, and beyond.

Shonda Chase and Casey Bahr, both in their early 50s, are co-owners of Revive Wellness Center, which has offices in all three above-mentioned counties. Like most businesses, they were hit hard when COVID-19 struck. But now that the state is reopening, Chase has another problem.

“We have staff members in our Torrance office who don’t want to come back to work, same as in Irvine, same as the Palm Springs office. But this one particular employee won’t come back because she says she’s making more money by staying home,” she said.

Joe Mogush, owner and operator of X-Timeshares and Transfer, also is having difficulty finding employees who are willing to work. Mogush opened up X-Timeshares, a company that relieves customers of unwanted timeshares, a year ago. During the sequester, he asked employees to work from home.

“Two weeks ago, I placed employment ads to hire additional employees for our June 1 reopen. Responses to the ads were down 70 to 80 percent. I feel that too much stimulus was given out. If they can stay home and make money, why go to work?”

Leaving the State

Though born and raised in Orange County, this past week, Mogush moved his entire family from Orange County to Gilbert, Arizona.

“With everything that is going on with COVID-19, I had to. There are people in Arizona who actually want to work,” he said.

Mogush, who considers himself a right-leaning independent, remembers Orange County when it was a Republican stronghold, before it turned blue in 2018. He says that while he blames Newsom for issuing overreaching sequestration mandates during the pandemic, he also believes much of the fault lies with the mainstream media, which Mogush sees as using the virus to capitalize politically during an election year.

“The media has turned it from a pandemic into a monster 10 times worse than it is,” he said. “I haven’t heard one person in the media admit that ‘if 100 people get it, over 99.5 percent of them will survive.’ I’ve yet to see one person write a story about that.

“I found it ironic that you can look at a map of the 50 states and you can tell the red from the blue by which are open and which are not, with the exception of a few.”

Born and raised in Southern California, Aniz Uhler, a real estate broker in her early 60s and a Republican, has also recently left the state. She now lives and works in Las Vegas, where she will be celebrating on June 4 (the city’s local Independence Day, according to Uhler) at a restaurant before strolling through one of the casinos, all of which have already opened.

“I love Vegas,” she said. “We’re pro-business, and we’re not heartless to our homeless, but we have a manageable population, which is important during any kind of an outbreak. And as California goes deeper into debt because of the lockdown, I imagine their tax rate will have to go even higher.”

Social Isolation

In Hollywood, 31-year-old Juliet Frank, a Democrat who works in the film industry, learned from her major studio employer that she should probably anticipate working from home throughout the remainder of the year. Her friend, Adam, also in his early 30s and a Democrat, works for another studio, but, like Frank, from home.

Though each is healthy and at little risk of succumbing to COVID-19, they’re extremely concerned that they could be asymptomatic carriers, putting their parents, grandparents, and other vulnerable populations at risk. It’s something they’ve been hearing and reading about for months. The result is that they spend a lot of time in their apartments. Surprisingly, when asked if they get together with other friends their age, the answer is no.

“Nobody is getting together anymore,” Frank said, even though gatherings of 10 and under have been sanctioned.

While the pandemic is real, the increasing isolation among younger Californians poses questions about long-term consequences of the extended sequester—and whether media campaigns bombarding young people with warnings to be vigilant about social distancing have resulted in overkill.

“Nobody even smiles at each other when you’re walking down the sidewalk anymore,” said Laguna Beach resident Dale Harvey, who worries about lasting effects of the sequestration.

Michael Bryant, a 72-year-old artist, is a Republican-turned-independent who is also from Laguna. He used to see his grandkids for an hour each day. Now he walks in twice a week, drops off a present, then says goodbye.

“The 1-year-old puts her arms around my leg, and the older one doesn’t understand why I’m not playing with them anymore,” he said.

Bryant’s daughter, the children’s mother, believes her father is being “foolish,” asking him how many people he knows who have actually had COVID-19, to which Bryant replies, “Do you want me to be the first?”

Lack of Medical Care

Dr. Bill Murphy, M.D., an emergency room physician at CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County), hasn’t been called to work for a long time because it’s been so slow.

“I’ve not been there since April 1. We’ve cut shifts in the emergency room,” he said. “I think that people are afraid to come to the hospital. There’s going to be a risk to people putting off colonoscopies and angiograms.”

The 59-year-old Harvard graduate and onetime “Jeopardy” contestant is a dedicated Democrat with deep Boston roots, but he has called Southern California home for nearly 30 years. It’s where he’s raised his family, made a good living, and supported various philanthropic causes important to him. Now he sees a lot of private practices being hit hard and rural hospitals likely going under completely.

Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach has started running TV commercials urging viewers to “get the care they need.” And my father, Dr. Joseph Ravenna Jr., M.D., an 82-year-old, independent voter who owns and operates eight medical clinics throughout Southern California, says only about 50 percent of his patients have been keeping their appointments since the outbreak started.

It’s all the result of a campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that seems to have worked too well, scaring everyone away from—and nearly cratering—the very industry it was designed to protect.

More notably, Dr. Simone Gold, an ER doctor in Los Angeles at a facility where 50 percent of the technicians have been fired, has sent a letter to the president along with 599 other doctors from around the country, outlining their concerns about the spiraling, negative physical and emotional health ramifications resulting from the lockdown.

Pressure on Businesses

In Riverside County, bar owner John Labrano had kept his Palm Desert business, The Red Barn, open for eight years, ever since he bought it. But on March 16, the Sheriff’s Department presented him with an order signed by the Health Department and the governor’s office.

According to Labrano, his bar has three areas including an outside patio, so keeping people at a distance isn’t difficult. He also implemented other protocols.

“I’d had someone there full-time wiping down barstools, tables, countertops and seats, everything. Their entire job was to keep the place sanitized. And I never allowed more than 30 people in the bar, including employees,” he said.

But when an agent called from Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), the liquor licensing arm of the state, threatening to revoke his license, Labrano closed the business.

“I went home and put my tail between my legs for three weeks and sequestered myself, like everyone was told to do. But I’m thinking … a mattress store is open, and a donut store, and a marijuana store? They’re all essential, but my bar has to be closed?” he said.

Labrano decided to try to reopen on May 16. But on May 15, three ABC agents went to the Red Barn, leaving papers on the door saying that if the bar opened, they’d revoke his license.

The entire ordeal was chronicled in the local news. While he did receive a few death threats, Labrano’s grateful that most of the peaceful desert community came to his defense. As Americans, he’d expect nothing less, he said.

“If you’re not free, then you’re just like every other country that doesn’t have a democratic society. If you don’t have freedom, then you’re not an American,” he said.

One thing is certain, with so many questions and doubts about which news feeds to trust, which numbers are accurate (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Johns Hopkins), which phase has begun, and what businesses are allowed to open, Californians are bewildered, frustrated, and feeling bluer than ever.

“I’m just looking forward to people not being scared anymore,” said hairstylist Matthew Viers. “It’s sad to me.”

Joni Ravenna Sussman is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. Her articles have appeared in dozens of national and regional publications over the years. She is also a playwright and TV writer.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.