Monday, July 13, 2020

NURSING HOME VISITORS: IMPROVEMENT, BUT NOT MUCH


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 31, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “NURSING HOME VISITORS: IMPROVEMENT, BUT NOT MUCH”


The good news in California nursing homes this summer is that some are allowing their residents to see visitors at long last, but almost exclusively outdoors and in very controlled circumstances where the guests have little chance to see what’s happening inside the homes.


This small, far-from-universal change is largely the result of a slight improvement in a key state guideline governing nursing homes.


The change: The state Department of Public Health (DPH) no longer merely recommends that nursing homes allow residents to designate one person to visit during the COVID-19 pandemic if the visitors distance, don masks and other personal protective equipment. In late June, the DPH began mandating that nursing home denizens “shall” be allowed to pick a guest.


That’s a big improvement for the relatively few residents of the homes who now get occasional visits. Previously, all visitors had been banned from the homes, even state inspectors. This amounted to carte blanche for many nursing home managements to reduce staff (especially with state staffing requirements suspended early on) and keep disabled residents in bed for days at a time. Even on days when they’re allowed out of bed, staffers often stash them back there around mid-afternoon because workloads are so large they would not otherwise have time to serve dinner to all their patients.


Essentially, visitors have lost their previous role as the main watchdogs over nursing home practices.


The intent of the original visitor ban was to keep the coronavirus plague out of the homes. That policy has failed, what with about 49 percent – almost half – of all California COVID-19 deaths occurring among those residing in nursing homes, as of early July.


“(The ban) has been an extreme hardship for most nursing home patients,” said Lori Smetanka, executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care. “It has led to significant physical, social and psychological harm for many thousands of residents. Their needs are worsening without families to visit them.” She added that even when virtual visits via services like Zoom and Facetime are arranged, “they often prove disruptive to residents, especially those with cognitive impairments.”


That adds to a climate described this way by one 76-year-old physically handicapped nursing home resident who retains all his mental faculties: “The nursing home establishment makes people feel like ‘throw-aways,” he wrote in an email. “We feel much like abandoned pets or children with disabilities. This makes it difficult to maintain the attitude and motivation you need to feel like a human being in here.”


          Lawyer Tony Chicotel of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform organization describes the last four months for a typical resident of this state’s nursing homes as “very much like solitary confinement,” adding that most are even worse off than that, because they share rooms and get little privacy outside their own thoughts.


          “This is institutionalized isolation,” Chicotel said. “Some call it a form of solitary confinement. It’s become inhumane and cruel. This has been done to people without any consultation or due process. And the no visitor policy has been a colossal failure, too.” In fact, most of the COVID-19 that has so severely hit nursing homes came into them with staffers, who often must work two jobs because of their low pay. Even if one home where they work is “clean,” they can become infected at their second job or in crowded conditions where they live.


          Then there’s assisted living, where residents often pay large sums for rooms and apartments. They also have had no visitors, reports Chicotel. But unlike nursing home residents, they are allowed out for excursions, medical appointments or other needs. The rub, says Chicotel: On their return, most assisted living homes require residents who leave even for short times to quarantine for 14 days, never leaving their rooms during that time for any reason.


          As a result, few ever leave and many residents suffer isolation similar to nursing home patients.


          If a society can be judged by the way it cares for its grandparents and other elders, what does all this say about California and the rest of America, where the same situations apply almost everywhere?

                  
    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net


TIME FOR NEWSOM TO GET TOUGH ON VIRUS SCOFFLAWS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “TIME FOR NEWSOM TO GET TOUGH ON VIRUS SCOFFLAWS”


          It became plain during the July 4 holiday weekend that Los Angeles County has at least a partially scofflaw sheriff. So do several other California counties. They’re essentially enforcing only laws and rules they like.


          As coronavirus hospital admissions neared capacities just before the nation’s 244th birthday, doctors readied rationing schemes deciding who would get ventilators in case of a shortage. Then Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered beaches and their parking lots closed in most coastal counties to slow the contagion.


          When similar orders prevailed during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva stationed deputies at regular intervals along his county’s vast strands, their mere presence warding off would-be surfers and others who merely wanted to lounge on the sand. California bent the COVID curve.


          But not this time. A holiday drive along more than 20 miles of beaches revealed shut-down parking lots and plenty of “Closed” signs – but no deputies. As a result, wherever roadside parking was possible along the Pacific Coast Highway, beaches were crowded, surfers clambering down bluffs and cliffs headed for the unusually high waves that prevailed.


          No deputies could be seen trying to hinder them, let alone write citations. If the pandemic revival of late June and early July continues into August, this will likely be part of the reason, just as big, mostly unmasked and un-socially-distanced Memorial Day beach and protest crowds helped cause the state’s second onslaught of COVID-19.


          Newsom, who almost daily issues edicts governing business and personal behavior, did little. Yes, before the holiday, he threatened to take some state funding from counties that wouldn't follow orders on mask use and beach closings. The threats were paper tigers.


          This was also true of his response when Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke refused to enforce state orders in May and June, claiming they meant “economic slaughter.” Now cases are surging in Merced County and Warnke is recanting.


          Through all this, the scofflaw sheriffs continue commanding their corps of deputies as if they were tough law enforcement officers. They have not been penalized, making a mockery of state authority.


          It’s not unique to California. Hours after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered his state’s residents to mask up in public, the sheriff of rural Lewis County told a crowd to go barefaced. Carrying a megaphone and wearing his uniform to prove he spoke officially, Sheriff Robert Snaza exhorted constituents, “Don’t be a sheep.”


          This amounted to an endorsement of risking death for themselves and others.


          It’s essentially a rebellion by local sheriffs against governors trying to save lives by using their emergency powers, one of the highest duties of any public official.


          But at least five California sheriffs and a couple of mayors have told constituents Newsom’s orders are “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”


          Given what’s happened around those counties, with caseloads and death tolls rising daily, it’s high time Newsom did more than just talk.


          It is politic to urge citizens to be responsible, as the governor continually does. But the Memorial Day beach scenes, the unmasked protest marches and the actions of countless restaurant and bar customers demonstrate he must do something more dramatic.


          Newsom has dispatched several hundred state inspectors to enforce rules on businesses, but they sometimes work unpredictably and even at odds with his orders. One example: restaurants in Morgan Hill that followed the pre-Fourth of July order to close indoor operations were told to shut down outside tables – not part of the state order. Overall, inspectors issued at least seven citations on their first day out and hundreds since.


          Newsom says he hopes persuasion will be enough to get Californians to follow his orders. It has not worked well enough, leniency most likely costing at least some lives.


          Which makes it high time Newsom put teeth in his orders. Yes, some localities fine face mask recalcitrants hundreds of dollars when they persist after being warned, but no one has punished scofflaw sheriffs and mayors.


          If they won’t uphold rules they’re sworn to enforce, those officials should either be removed from office or see their agencies lose major state funding. The carrot plainly hasn’t worked well enough; it’s time for the stick.


     -30-       
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, July 6, 2020

EVIDENCE MOUNTING OF MARKET SOLUTION TO HOUSING


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “EVIDENCE MOUNTING OF MARKET SOLUTION TO HOUSING”


          New evidence arrives almost every day backing the concept of a market-based solution to California’s housing shortage, one that does not have to involve politicians at all.


          Of course, that offends politicos like San Francisco’s Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, who persists in the notion that high-density, high-rise apartments and condominiums are the answer.


          In a sense, he’s right. For the market-based solution that’s fast taking shape does involve high rises and high density – just not in new buildings. Rather, housing will almost certainly occupy space now leased by insurance companies, law firms, venture capitalists, bank headquarters – almost every kind of white collar business.


          Lease holders who once clamored for more space in office towers rising above areas like Century City in Los Angeles, downtown San Diego and San Francisco’s financial district are now looking for ways to escape the commitments they still have. “For lease” signs proliferate in urban areas.


          Some tenants refuse to pay rent, having sent their work forces home to work safely and virtually at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re not being evicted yet, because of state emergency rules allowing tenants huge leeway on delaying payments during the health crisis. But if they don’t either pay up when the rent delays expire or work out deferred payment deals with their landlords, they will pretty soon find themselves ousted.


          They will leave gigantic amounts of current office space empty. It’s not that white collar businesses won’t need office space; merely that they will need much less. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have told their workers to keep operating from home as long as they like. Others are asking workers to come in one or two days per week.


          As California reopened haltingly after the initial crisis phase of the pandemic, when unusual caution was taken to prevent hospital overloads that could have cost many lives, it became clear vast numbers of workers will opt to stay home most of the time.


          In many cases, that’s not mere preference, but necessity. State guidelines for reopening public schools, for example, create a need for continued virtual commuting. By staggering start and stop times, reducing class sizes and using a mix of in-person and online instruction, the schools are telling millions of working parents they’ll have to flex their work hours.


          Some like it that way. This reality is visible in recent home pricing figures from San Francisco and some of its suburbs. Demand for housing is up in Marin, Napa, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, but down in San Francisco itself. One result is that a house which sold for $1.89 million 15 months ago in the city’s Sunset District is now listed on the Zillow real estate site at $1.78 million – down $101,000.


          At the same time, realtors in suburban counties are seeing steady demand. They report many would-be buyers are the same people who long worked in office towers, but lately operate from home. As their bosses tell them they can keep doing this, some are seeking more spacious quarters and a less urban environment.


          In short, many want the very urban sprawl that’s anathema to Wiener, who has sponsored bill after bill aimed at bringing density to the same areas so attractive right now to folks leaving dense neighborhoods.


          The same thing is happening in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, where prices in outlying areas are rising, while real estate near the urban cores remains stable.


          The next phase figures to see entire floors of high-rise buildings go vacant, and then remain empty for significant periods. Once building owners realize that new lessees won’t be forthcoming in droves, they’ll opt for other ways to monetize their buildings: converting much of the empty floor space to condos and apartments.


          These will likely come in all sizes and price levels, from large ocean-and mountain-view units to small apartments on the lower floors. Some buildings will have mixed use, with stores on the ground floor and other levels shared by offices and dwelling units. Zoning changes are inevitable.


          That’s how market forces will solve the housing shortage, creating vast numbers of units within the next five years, many of them very affordable.


-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

BLACK LIVES MATTER; WHY NOT FARM WORKER LIVES?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“BLACK LIVES MATTER; WHY NOT FARM WORKER LIVES?”


          Black Lives Matter. That’s not only true, but since late May it’s been an act of political incorrectness to suggest that other lives matter, too. Saying “All Lives Matter” today invites accusations of racism. And yet…


          This summer has seen protest marches stressing that both transgender and LGBTQ lives matter. But no one has marched for the well-being of farm workers, who are almost uniquely exposed to the coronavirus plague.


          In Monterey County, the contrast between wealth along the coast north of Big Sur and the poverty of farm workers laboring in fields two dozen or so miles inland has long been stark. Now the contrast is clear in another vital way: Coastal areas with more than one-third of the county’s population accounted for less than 15 percent of its COVID-19 cases as of June 27. The agricultural Salinas and south county areas with a host of farm workers chalked up more than 80 percent of cases in the county. So far, Soledad State Prison has contributed very little to county case and death totals.


          Drive through the Salinas Valley on Highway 101 or any of dozens of byways and reasons for the caseload disparity become obvious.


          Many farm workers ride old, re-painted school buses to the valley’s lettuce, strawberry, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli fields. They are often crammed in like schoolchildren in pre-pandemic days.


          They work parallel rows of plants side by side, any social distancing purely accidental. Workers return home on the same buses, living in conditions far more crowded than all but a few homes along the coast. It’s an open invitation to the coronavirus.


          The upshot couldn’t be more clear: Farm worker lives don’t matter.


          Almost everyone in America who has participated in this year’s protests and unrest, no matter their ethnicity, eats food produced by these workers and folks like them. Their absence would instantly disrupt America’s food supply.


          And conditions in the Salinas Valley are not unique. The agriculture-centered Central Valley has lately seen a rise in coronavirus cases, prompting several members of Congress to urge that Gov. Gavin Newsom prioritize COVID-19 testing for farm workers and food packers.


          The federal Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines calling for farm workers to use face masks and other personal protective equipment, but it’s difficult to spot any worker doing that. While farm workers are deemed essential laborers, the guidelines are not mandatory, leaving compliance to the discretion of farm owners and foremen.


          So it’s no surprise that COVID-19 outbreaks among farm workers around California grow steadily more severe and frequent.


          Edgar Franks, political director of a farm worker union in Washington state, told a reporter most farms are not as scrupulous about educating and equipping workers as companies in urban settings, where inspections are more frequent. “I haven’t seen much enforcement of guidelines in the fields,” he said. “No social distancing, no giving out masks, too little spacing between rows, everyone huddling close together during crew meetings.”


          Combined with crowded living conditions, that’s a recipe for disease.


          Meanwhile, pay is low and many workers fear being fired if absent. So labor advocates report few farm workers get tested, while many report for duty when feeling ill.


          Newsom has responded, but only a bit. One of his many executive orders requires anyone employing fewer than 500 food sector workers to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to workers affected by COVID-19. But testing is less common in agricultural areas than in large cities, so it’s difficult for workers at big farms to qualify for those two weeks of sick pay. And what about workers on larger farms not affected by Newsom’s order?


          Farm worker advocates also report that Cal-OSHA, the state’s occupational safety and health agency, has been reluctant to investigate directly in fields where the advocates say safety guidelines are ignored.


          The full extent of this problem remains unknown, partly because of the paucity of formal investigations and partly because most COVID-19 testing programs do not identify occupations of persons testing positive.


          Change is plainly needed, if only to prevent contagion in the food chain. It’s also high time someone asserted forcefully that farm worker lives do matter.


           -30-       
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

Monday, June 29, 2020

A SURE LOSER HEADS TO THE NOVEMBER BALLOT


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 17, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “A SURE LOSER HEADS TO THE NOVEMBER BALLOT”


          Heedless of informed advice about conditions in California, labor unions behind the Split Roll ballot initiative are now persisting in their attempt to fundamentally alter the landmark Proposition 13.


          Their measure would remove the 1978 ballot initiative’s property tax protections from commercial and industrial property, while leaving residential levies untouched. If this passes, commercial land and buildings would be taxed based on current market values, while yearly residential property taxes would still be based on 1 percent of the latest purchase price or 1 percent of their 1975 assessed value if ownership has not changed. Residential levies can climb by no more than 2 percent per year.


This alteration would give local governments and public schools an additional $11 billion to $12 billion annually, sponsors say. It would do nothing about the longtime Proposition 13 inequity which sees neighbors in similar properties paying wildly different property taxes, depending on when they bought.


          But the alleged commercial property tax total is fictitious at this moment, the remnant of a bygone era that ended with the coronavirus shelter-at-home order issued in March by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor, using emergency powers, coupled his stay-home order with others allowing tenants, both individual and commercial, to delay paying rent for months at a minimum.


          With much of the withheld rent money – perhaps 15 percent of all that tenants normally pay – now in limbo, property owners and appraisers can’t accurately assess the value of commercial property. Owners don’t know how much they will really get if tenants like the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain, which refused to pay rent while its eateries were shuttered, don’t eventually pay up.


          Other commercial tenants withholding rent will likely let it pile up, then negotiate settlements with building managers. Owners of many buildings will never get the full rent they were due.


          Also, because corporations like Twitter, Facebook and many more have told white collar workers to keep working from home as long as they like – and many like it much better than commuting – a healthy percentage of office building owners have no idea how much of their space may soon be vacant.


          Taken together, this makes it almost impossible for owners or appraisers to calculate the actual value of much of California’s commercial property, since office buildings' value depends largely on income they produce. This makes the numbers often purveyed by Split Roll sponsors completely speculative.


          Into this quagmire steps the new ballot measure, pushing a fundamentally good idea, but one that will be slammed mercilessly in television and social media advertising as landlords fear high taxes that might force them out of business.


          When, not if, this proposition loses at the polls, it will become virtually impossible politically to tinker with Proposition 13 for years to come, as the initiative most likely returns to its prior status as the untouchable third rail in California politics. The measure was nearly sacrosanct in Sacramento for more than 40 years, legislators of all political persuasions fearing the wrath of homeowners, who always cast ballots in higher proportions than other groups.


          Standing by to help dump the Split Roll into a deep grave is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., named for the more famous of Proposition 13’s two authors. 


          For decades, this outfit has opposed anything that looks like it might alter even the tiniest aspect of its pet law. The Jarvis organization frequently sends mailers to property owners warning them any attack on any part of Proposition 13 promises to send their taxes through the roof. That’s happening again now, as official-looking mailings from the group turn up from time to time in homeowner mailboxes.


          These will become more frequent as November nears. The din around Split Roll might even drown out presidential balloting, which figures to be among the noisiest in years.


          The bottom line: Sponsors believe the financial needs of schools in the wake of the coronavirus-caused recession, plus a rising sense of general resentment of injustice, will push this initiative over the top even in this very odd election year. The betting here is that they are dead wrong.


          -30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

SCHOOL DISTRICTS APPROVING ETHNIC STUDIES SIGHT UNSEEN


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 14, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “SCHOOL DISTRICTS APPROVING ETHNIC STUDIES SIGHT UNSEEN”


          Academia is supposed to be a land of objective reality, where ideas enter the standard curriculum for mass exposure to students only after thorough vetting.


          But that’s apparently not so if the subject is sufficiently politically correct.


          That’s about the only conclusion to be drawn today, as school boards around California are approving a new ethnic studies curriculum even before it’s been examined in public hearings or adopted by the state Board of Education.


          School boards in places as disparate as Albany and Alhambra, San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward have endorsed this proposed curriculum, even though it’s a no more than a very slightly altered version of the course resoundingly rejected last year on grounds of bias and unjustified exclusions.


          After that rejection, the curriculum was supposed to get a complete revision. Not exactly. Pretty much the same folks who wrote the first version turned up on the committee writing the new one, creating little better than a rerun with a few t’s crossed differently, so to speak.


          People writing both versions of the curriculum have mostly been adherents of something called “critical ethnic studies.” Several websites describe the central question guiding the Critical Ethnic Studies (CES) Assn. as this: “How do the histories of colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery and white supremacist patriarchies…affect, inspire and unsettle scholarship in the present?”


          The first version of the planned curriculum divided Californians into four categories: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, whites and Asian American/Pacific Islanders.


          Inspired by CES thinking, it focused more on racial and ethnic discrimination and little on the contributions of various groups that make up those wide categories.


 No informed American denies that slavery had a major role in American history, as did the cheap labor of Chinese and other immigrants, including the Irish, Hispanics and Jews. Nor is the suffering of American Indians in dispute, even if they don’t fit neatly into any CES category.


          All this belongs in history classes, but so do positive contributions of European colonists and other immigrants who together with the others built this nation.

           
          CES-style thinking embedded in the proposed curriculum, due for a Sacramento hearing in August, caused the Vallejo school board to become a rare exception to the trend toward blind acceptance of a curriculum that has not been thoroughly examined.


          Said Robert Lawson, a school board member there and a former history teacher, “People shouldn’t be fooled that ethnic studies are mainly to instill pride in one’s heritage. It’s a means of getting even.”


          That was essentially how the Jewish caucus of the state Legislature saw the original curriculum proposal, which contained significant lies about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It also ignored the charters of some large Palestinian factions, including Hamas – the ruling party in Gaza – which call for killing Jews wherever they are, while completely eliminating Israel.


The planned coursework also ignored the Armenian genocide carried out by Turkey between 1915 and 1917, in which at least 1.5 million were massacred, with other millions fleeing to many places, including California, where they have thrived. It did not include the major contributions of Portuguese immigrants to California agriculture and said little about ethnic groups from Samoans to Syrians, Greeks, Yugoslavs and Egyptians, mostly sticking to the four wide categories favored by CES.


That didn’t bother the school boards endorsing the “revised” curriculum sight unseen. “Ninety-five percent of our students are Asian American and Hispanic,” said Alhambra board member Robert Gin. “I support (it) in its entirety. It is a long time coming.”


Meanwhile, state schools Supt. Tony Thurmond, in an update early this year, indicated he doesn’t want much change from the original proposal that was supposedly dumped. He said the new version “will acknowledge and honor the four (CES) foundational groups,” thus lumping Jews, Armenians, Irish and other Caucasian hyphenated Americans with whites in general.


That will inevitably play up racism and the World War II interning of Japanese Americans and downplay study of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, to name just two seminal events of the 20th Century.


It adds up to a phony rewrite, and will likely lead to further delay of ethnic studies and another rewrite – hopefully a genuine one next time.


    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Friday, June 19, 2020

POST-LOCKDOWN REALITIES BEGIN TO EMERGE


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “POST-LOCKDOWN REALITIES BEGIN TO EMERGE”


          Patio seating is more popular than ever at restaurants that reopened when governments relaxed precautions against the spread of COVID-19, one feature of the during- and post-pandemic world. Senior hours at some grocery and big box stores are no longer strictly enforced, with sprinklings of youngsters now appearing among the silver-haired.


          Beaches are crowded, and the supposedly required social distancing there fast became another non-enforced rule. Masks remain almost ubiquitous on the sand and will be at least for many months, but the question of wearing them or not remains political dynamite.


Most white-collar workers sent home to work at kitchen tables or in their bedrooms are still there, many companies saying they can work from home as long as they like. Traffic on California freeways is far lighter than B.P. (before pandemic), but up from levels at the height of the lockdown.


          Gyms, allowed to reopen in most counties in early June, may be where change is most obvious. Some rules there have also been among the silliest.


          While reservations have been commonplace for centuries at fine restaurants, and even at some that are not so fine, they are new to gyms, but now required by some locations in the large 24 Hour Fitness chain.


          Gyms are getting cleaned more often and more thoroughly than most have been since they were built. Weight machines are wiped with germicides at regular intervals. It’s forbidden to stay in some gyms longer than an hour. Basketball and handball courts in many facilities are now homes for treadmills, elliptical machines and other workout staples. In some gyms, these are about 10 feet apart; others create spacing by allowing members to use only one of every two or three machines.


          One seemingly absurd policy governed at many gyms until Gov. Gavin Newsom ended it on June 18 with a wide-ranging order for masking: Users for awhile had to be masked when entering and walking around, but not while exercising, when most persons breathe hardest and spew the most potential contagions.


          Many gym rats wonder why these facilities were ever shuttered, as their changes could have been made very quickly. Meanwhile, academic studies show that in all age groups, people who exercise have stronger immune responses and resist disease better than comparable folks who don’t.


          Said one 78-year-old regular at a 24 Hour Fitness in Los Angeles, “I never understood why they closed the gyms. This place is why I’ve lived so long.” He substituted home weight-lifting and long walks for gym activity, but says it never had the same benefits.


          Gyms are also symbolic of the lockdown’s economic toll. The iconic Gold’s Gym chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early May. 24 Hour Fitness, in expansion mode B.P., soon followed, firing many employees on impersonal phone calls. 24 Hour also eliminated dozens of gyms across California, reopening only the most profitable.


          Amid this turmoil, many longtime gym users remain hesitant to return. Many have doubts about ventilation systems, as federal health officials warn that recirculated air can carry contaminated spit and sweat globules too small to see or feel. Others, like Gold’s Gym devotee and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said they wouldn’t return unless masks were required at all times. They should be now.


          In business, group video calls on services like Facebook, Zoom and Google Meet were relatively rare B.P., but swiftly became lifelines for stay-at-home workers. These sessions remain common even as lockdowns fade away. They’re also vital tools for grandparents and their grandkids, whose personal contacts are hindered as many grandparents continue self-quarantining even while life reopens for others.


          While some psychotherapists decry the lack of personal contact in virtual meetings, others say the new services opened their practices beyond previous geographic limits. “Now I’m seeing patients in other states, even other countries,” said one San Francisco psychologist. “It’s true I can’t see their body language as well as I’d like, but the talk therapy is very useful. It’s much better than nothing, what we feared when the lockdown started.”


          All of which makes this already a changed world, with more shifts to come. Some will be improvements, some not. The only certainty: Life will never go back to the old normal.


          -30-   
           

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net