You Are Not Stuck in Traffic, You Are Traffic: This Is Up to All of Us, Says Governor

Governor Newsom addressing state residents  yesterday. Screengrab from Twitter feed
Governor Newsom addressing state residents yesterday. Screengrab from Twitter feed
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Controlling the pandemic is everyone’s individual responsibility, said Governor Gavin Newsom during yesterday’s COVID-19 update, and right now staying away from each other is the one strategy that can help avoid deepening the crisis. Noting a complaint from someone about all the people crowding a park this past weekend, he pointed out that the complainer was also out there, contributing to the crowd. Then he quoted a motto that bicycle advocates have been repeating for years. “You’re not stuck in traffic,” he said. “You are traffic.”

Wow. Just wow. The phrase is a truism that strikes at the heart of so many aspects of how we live in the world, as if our individual actions don’t add up to much. It’s also painfully apt right now, at the leading edge of a pandemic that is spreading much faster than we can measure or analyze, and that we haven’t yet begun to really feel.

“I had a little anxiety, as I’m sure you did, watching the news of all those folks and crowds in our parks along the beautiful California coast this weekend,” said Newsom. “Normally that would light up my heart, and it’s understandable, with the stay-at-home order. One can’t condemn it– but we can criticize it,” he said.

The official response, he said, will be closing state-run parking lots at parks and beaches; a complete list can be found at parks.ca.gov. He called it a “soft closure” to discourage people from gathering together. “We don’t want to close big beautiful open spaces, and we don’t want to discourage people from going outdoors–with intention and purpose,” he said. “Not to linger.”

“We can’t see what we saw over the weekend again,” he said. “In order to meet this moment, we need to improve our behaviors, all of us. The young and healthy have an obligation to keep elders safe, and to keep safe social distancing. You can’t do that at a pick-up basketball game” or on a hike on a narrow trail.

Newsom had opened the update by discussing the number of hospital beds and facilities, protective equipment, and medical personnel that California is expecting to need, and how the state is planning to meet the challenges. But, he said, “those bed numbers assume that we are doing what we need to do” by practicing “social distancing.” If we don’t, those numbers “are substantially higher.”

“We are trying to ‘bend the curve,’ but we have got to bend to a deeper understanding that we must change our behavior–we need to have hundreds of millions of people acting differently” if we are going to survive this threat, said Newsom.

At the moment, the state is relying on a “collaborative approach” to enforcement, although he said they are “significantly increasing state park patrols.” For now, social encouragement, persuasion, licensing, and registration enforcement, and information will be the focus of law enforcement efforts, but local and state police “have the capacity to cite if necessary.”

“The vast majority of Californians did the right thing, and didn’t need to be told,” he said.

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