On May 1, the City of Glendale rescinded its public health emergency order that had been in place for more than 13 months. That same week, two stories emerged that demonstrated how disparate are the approaches to re-opening our cities and coming out of lockdown.
The Atlantic published an article entitled “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown.” The premise of the piece is that many “blue” communities feel like they have to keep public health restrictions in place even when the COVID-19 situation no longer constitutes an “emergency.” They do it because the issue of COVID is hyperpartisan and the removal of restrictions makes the liberal elected officials feel like they are failing their constituents.
A few days later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story about the Waukesha School District no longer requiring quarantine after a COVID exposure. This story demonstrates the opposite end of the public health and political spectrums. Ignoring the disease, and not putting protective measures in place, is how “red” areas are responding to the pandemic.
Neither approach follows science. There is a middle ground. Set quantifiable measures and, when a community reaches those benchmarks, it is time to lift restrictions. When active cases decline to a certain number, and when vaccinations reach a certain percentage of the population, it is time to end lockdowns.
The City of Glendale has roughly 13,000 people. We currently have less than ten active COVID cases. Our case numbers declined to ten active cases more than a month ago and have been in the single digits ever since. That is a quantifiable benchmark.
We have also seen a brisk and active vaccination effort all across the North Shore. Nearly 65% of Glendale’s population has had a first dose of a vaccine and our fully vaccinated rate is over 50%, two more quantifiable measures.
Those data points were sufficient for us to say that the city no longer requires an emergency operations plan with extraordinary powers given to public health officials, fire and rescue, and the police department to battle COVID. The disease is still here, but the health care system can handle the volume. Practical measures like requiring quarantine after exposure are still warranted. Stores and indoor public venues should still require masks.
As local elected officials, we need to depoliticize public health. Our best approach needs to be one that puts emergency orders in place when there is truly an emergency, lifts those orders when we have the situation managed, and encourages public health best practices until we reach herd immunity through vaccination.
Bryan Kennedy, Ph.D., is the mayor of Glendale