Out of the frying pan…into???

December 6th, 2020Out of the frying pan…into???

IT'S been an 'unprecedented' year and for most Central Highlands residents it's been one of lockdowns but also open spaces for enjoying masked walks.

But for some former residents it’s been a different year. Some better, some worse. “Out of the frying pan…into ???. In the third of our series, former Wheatsheaf resident Jeff Glorfeld talks about COVID life in California, with his wife Carol, under a Trump presidency.

I was talking to a friend in Melbourne recently and mentioned that I felt a sense of pride in the way Victorians had made such sacrifices in order to smack down COVID-19, and now they were reaping the benefits.
From our home in California we followed developments closely, through online news reports and by staying in touch with our friends and former neighbours. The United States, for all its size and power, is incredibly insular – people here show little interest in events taking place outside their borders. Even so, Victoria’s success in controlling the virus was mentioned in several news reports.
Victoria has a population of almost 7 million people. According to an ABC News report from November 16, “Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire were put under stage 3 restrictions on July 9, a day of 143 new cases and 772 active infections — numbers which continued to grow”.
Here in the US, the states are broken up into counties, rather than shires. My wife Carol and I live in Shasta County, in northern California. It’s mostly rural, much of it harsh and rugged, with a population of about 180,000. The county seat, where we live, is the town of Redding; more than 92,000 people live here. County-wide we are seeing more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 each day, almost 900 a week, a 28 per cent surge. There have been 47 COVID-related deaths since the outbreak began.

When Dan Andrews announced strict virus control measures, there was complaining and arguing, but to us it looked like most Victorians saw sense in what he was trying to achieve and went along with the plan. But because some people will always push against authority, included in the strategy were rules for enforcement. Face coverings were to be worn. People were to stay home as much as possible. Travel was to be kept to a minimum. Do this or pay a price.
It was hard, it was harsh, people suffered, but as of now, it appears to have worked.
Meanwhile, in the US in March, California was a leader in issuing guidelines for halting the spread of COVID-19. There were no rules, no punishments, just a “directive” that included suggestions about hand washing and self-controlled restrictions on gatherings.

And how did that work? Well, as of now, California has more than 1,170,000 cases of COVID-19 and rising; and more than 19,000 deaths.
Recently, as the number of new COVID cases surged unchecked, the state’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, declared a 10pm-5am curfew. Asked by a reporter in the state capital, Sacramento, if they thought it might help, one man said: “We like our freedom. We are not going to listen to someone tell us we can’t see grandma, or our brother, or our family and friends. It’s not going to work.”
Said another: “Absolutely not, absolutely not. I think it is just a bunch of tomfoolery. Getting shut down early or staying open later, what does it matter?”
The key to all this is that the Governor issued directives, without mandating enforcement. Left to their own discretion, sheriff departments throughout the state have chosen to ignore them.
Here in Shasta County, our sheriff has publicly declared that directives to wear masks will not be enforced, and the newly proclaimed curfew will be rejected. This means a store manager can post a sign saying customers are required to wear face coverings, but it is up to them to enforce it.
There is a restaurant in our area that has taken this rejection of authority to extremes – the owner actively discourages the wearing of masks by staff and customers.
Redding has at least a dozen big grocery stores – what us oldtimers used to call supermarkets – and yet recently a woman decided to stage a protest rally outside one that was trying to enforce its policy of requiring customers to wear face coverings, proclaiming loudly that it was an egregious violation of her constitutional rights.
Comments attached to local online media reports about COVID are heavily weighted towards people who believe it’s nothing more than a jumped-up flu or cold; or worse, that it’s all a media-driven hoax. Shasta County is a deeply conservative area full of people who believe in and support our thankfully soon-to-be-former President Trump. This means mask wearing was made into a political issue and was never widespread – although recently there has been improvement in this regard.
I recently had an online chat with a person who believed that anyone who was going to refrain from travelling during the Thanksgiving holiday, and advocated the wearing of masks, had been “brainwashed”. We argued back and forth for a while and then finally she admitted that her anger stemmed from eight months of COVID-related bad news, restrictions, and the changes that had been forced upon her life. I told her that if Californians had been as tough and smart as Australians, they could have controlled this thing in eight weeks. Instead, we’re still dreaming of a day when we can walk into a pub and have a drink with our mates, secure in the knowledge that it won’t be our last.
Pictured above, Carol and Jeff Glorfeld with pooch Scout

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