The novel coronavirus pandemic poses a severe challenge to elected leaders that far exceeds any headaches posed by budget crises or corruption scandals. With projections now showing 208,000 Americans dead by Election Day of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, every pandemic decision is fraught with dire public health implications.
This is why San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer deserves credit for his executive order on Tuesday waiving permits that cost up to $1,000 and other fees for restaurants serving people outdoors.
The recent decisions by the county and the state to close indoor dining after a sharp increase in cases of the coronavirus — and outbreaks at restaurants — made complete sense. The decision to reopen bars in particular seems to have been based on unrealistic expectations about how people, masked or otherwise, might behave after drinking alcohol.
But evidence is strong that outdoor dining is safer than indoor dining. Having that option won't just help keep many struggling restaurants in business. It's good for the mental health of people who have stayed mostly at home for nearly four months.
Could Faulconer have acted earlier? Of course. On Monday, The San Diego Union-Tribune published a commentary by a board member of the La Jolla Shores Association complaining about the city's sluggish response to requests to allow al fresco dining along one block of Avenida de la Playa.
Fortunately, Faulconer made the right call after the county's closures. His measured leadership stands in sharp contrast to the scattershot, chaotic and reckless approach of a much more powerful elected Republican — President Donald Trump.
With dangerous frequency, Trump has failed to set a good example during the pandemic. Last week, he finally acknowledged the importance of wearing masks after months of refusing to wear one, then held a mask-optional event at Mount Rushmore. Wednesday, he warned states that don't reopen their K-12 schools in regular fashion next month that he will seek to cut off their federal funding. And on Twitter, he blasted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools" by ensuring social distancing as, somehow, "very impractical."
With cases of the coronavirus exploding in the nation's three most populous states — California, Texas and Florida — and with the average age of those infected becoming much younger, Trump's comments are irrational. Yes, of course, regular education is far superior to distance learning for young students. And Trump is right when he notes Germany has reopened schools with relatively few problems. But German leaders, unlike Trump, have made virus testing vastly more available, done a much better job in contract tracing and have used effective campaigns to tout social distancing and mask wearing. Germany's experience doesn't make the case for Trump. It makes the case against him.
Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation say the nation's estimated COVID-19 death toll would be below 163,000 by Nov. 1 if at least 95% of people wore masks in public. That's 45,000 fewer deaths, just by doing something a better leader would advocate for.
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune