California COVID-19 Risk High Due to Lax Restrictions

California COVID-19 Risk High Due to Lax Restrictions
This is the first in a series of three posts where we use our Social Distancing Scoreboard and Retail Impact Scoreboard tool, along with public health data and gubernatorial statements, to examine the effect that long weekends have on COVID-19 infection rates and the rate of recovery in different states.
We use both historic and contemporary data points to tell our story: Foot traffic from public beach areas and Retail locations, daily COVID-19 infection rates, and KPIs for Average mobility rates and Non-essential visits, all measured on two milestone dates - May 26th and July 7th 2020 - each the first Tuesday after a holiday weekend celebrated since the pandemic began. 

March 19th: Shutdown begins

On March 19, 2020, as California recorded 201 new daily cases of COVID-19 and a Social Distancing Scoreboard (SDS) grade of D, an Executive Order directed all Californians to stay home, except for an essential job, or essential needs. 

Exactly seven weeks later, on May 7th, local health jurisdictions and industry sectors could gradually begin reopening under guidance from a state Public Health Order. This despite the fact that new cases of COVID-19 have spiked to 1,532 per day, and there has been a noticeable decline in social distancing, as witnessed by an F grade on the SDS.

May 26th: Post-Memorial Day

Over the Memorial Day long weekend, beach-area foot traffic was down only about 40 to 50 percent versus 2019 levels. On Tuesday May 26th, California recorded a less than 25% reduction in Average mobility, and a reduction of less than 55% in Non-essential visits. 

On the same day, California reported 2,907 new cases of COVID-19, almost doubling over three weeks previous, and nearly 15x daily infection rates of the original shutdown date. The F score on the SDS continued and by now shutdown was strongly felt by consumers and businesses, alike.

Retail foot traffic was by now down 44% compared to 2019. That said, Californians had actually increased their visits to retail locations by 7% in the two weeks leading up to the Memorial Day weekend. 

This had created a slow recovery trend in the state, which fomented promise in advance of the next stage of California’s recovery scheduled for June 12th, when bars, gyms, stadium sports, schools, movie theaters and other entertainment businesses could reopen. 


July 7th: Post-Independence Day

Over the Independence Day long weekend, beach-area foot traffic remained about the same - 40 to 50% less than 2019 levels - indicating that social behavior had not changed much in the preceding weeks, despite the spike in COVID-19 infections. 

California’s reduction in Average Mobility remained stuck at less than 25%, as did statewide reduction in non-essential visits at less than 55%. The state’s SDS reads F and it is declining -- the lowest possible grade.

On the same day, California reported 12,977 new cases of COVID-19, a more than 4x increase versus May 26th, and a stunning 65x increase in daily infections since March 19th, when shutdown first began.

Retail foot traffic was down -39% vs 2019, though that still represents a net increase of 5% versus May 26th. That said, it seems the social distancing message was starting to resonate more during the two weeks directly preceding the Independence Day long weekend, when Retail foot traffic fell by about 6%. 

Six weeks before Labor Day

With more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases daily and an economic recovery trend in the Stopped phase, on July 13th, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an immediate statewide ban on most indoor gathering points, reversing many of the reopening activities of one month previous. 

That shutdown, which affects 19 counties including Los Angeles and Santa Clara, is set to expire on August 3rd, about a month before Labor Day weekend. Allowing that to happen will mean disastrous outcomes for California’s public health and state economy.

Given the data at-hand, if California's current shutdown is indeed lifted prior to the upcoming Labor Day weekend, statewide COVID-19 infection rates will continue to grow. Assuming Average mobility and Non-essential visits trends continue as they did over previous long weekends, a significant growth rate in infections will be recorded in California in the weeks following Labor Day, heading into Halloween and Thanksgiving. If that multiple of daily cases continues to grow as it has, the state's health system will simply be overwhelmed.

Likewise, it is also reasonable to assume that Retail foot traffic in California will continue to be flat or declining, foreshadowing more store closures and bankruptcies. This, in turn, will have ongoing impact on neighborhood foot traffic and worker migration patterns, with downstream effects for commercial real estate investors and local tax jurisdictions, among many others in the California Republic.

If you are interested in a deeper dive into this topic, join our upcoming Neighborhood Insights webinar to learn more. Register now and submit your questions to us directly!

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