At the time of this writing, the L.A. Times reports that the number of cases in California has grown to nearly 5,000, with 102 known deaths. Between yesterday and this Friday, the number of recorded cases more than doubled. If the trend continues, according to Mayor Garcetti:
A week or two from now, we will have images like we’re seeing in New York here in Los Angeles.”
Except that there is a discrepancy to point out; California has lagged far behind New York in testing–by about 65% according to the SF Chronicle–which means that the spike in cases shouldn’t be read as representing the rate of the spread of the virus, but only as representing the increased rate of California’s testing for it.
In other words, we can’t yet say for sure if we’ll be at New York city’s level of crisis without sampling or testing more of the population first.
But that’s where the trouble lies. Unlike New York, the state of California actually doesn’t have a federally approved test for COVID-19; instead, the state developed its own test for the virus. That’s where a bigger problem lies: the sluggish testing in California is also due to a shortness of staff and materials to administer the screening.
But what’s also true is that comparing Los Angeles to New York City as if they are basically twin cities on opposite coasts is simply misleading. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Los Angeles is a city of just under 4 million people, while it estimates that New York City is twice as large at just under 8.4 million.
But more important than the size is how differently these cities run. The density of New York City, where people are far more reliant on public transportation, far closer together at bars, restaurants and tourist locations, and where people are housed exponentially right on top of each other, shows why the risk of spread is greater there.
By contrast, California, the city of Carmageddon, is a city where millions of people already quarantine themselves on a daily basis en route to work each morning. There is density and clustering, but it’s far more sequestered. Think downtown L.A., Venice beach, or Hollywood. These are obviously hot-spots, where the risk of spread is just as great as anywhere else in the world, but the majority of the city is not as densely concentrated as downtown, Venice beach, or Hollywood. This is where the shutdown of L.A. was key.
It was the right step to close the schools and limit the amount of travel as soon as possible. And as Garcetti and Newsom have both noted, the vast majority of Californians have complied with the stay at home orders, which is a good sign.
Now the only problem is access to the tests, though. Once we can get more of our people screened, we can have a better projection of where to allocate our maximal resources, what areas to screen off, and where people can “get back to normal.”
Of course, “normal” is a stand-in for work. If not for nearly 40 million workers, how else could California rank as the 5th largest economy in the world, behind only Germany, Japan, China and the U.S. itself? The golden state’s wealth is formed daily not just by those millions of people in traffic authorized to work, but just as much by the millions of unauthorized workers whose hands also contribute to create its riches.
‘Con paciencia, mamá. Todo pasa por una razón.’