People in the water and on the beach
There were plenty of people trying the waves at Surfer's Beach on Thursday evening. Photo courtesy Daryn Reicherter

The rules for what you can and can’t do after seven weeks of more or less avoiding people and commerce have become unwieldy, unenforceable, conflicting and just plain confounding. As a result, well-meaning citizens are at risk of contracting COVID-19 and our state’s tremendous, life-changing efforts to stem the spread of the virus could be for naught. Consider:

The beaches are open, though the parking lots are closed. Come Monday, 13 county parks will be available. Ten others will not. National Parks are open, unless local government suggests otherwise. On Sunday, you must be within five miles of home on your walk; a day later you may travel a seemingly arbitrary 10 miles.

The fairways were closed, but on Monday golfers are free to tee off again. Dog parks still will be leashed. While the new rules allow skate parks to open, the city of Half Moon Bay is declining to do so. The jetty ramp is probably available, though. The state says you may play catch with a baseball, just not in San Mateo County.

Shelter-in-place has become figure-it-out and that is dangerous.

The problem is rooted in our success. Because Californians were quick to act and serious about social distancing and staying at home, we have avoided overwhelming our health care system with sick and dying coronavirus patients. The curve is flattening, as they say. And that means it is time to figure out how to return to a semblance of unflattened normalcy.

To be fair, this is an unprecedented situation. Local, state and federal government officials are not only balancing the health and welfare of constituents, they are also trying to determine the relative safety of what were once everyday activities. Is it safe to eat at a restaurant if we maintain social distance? Can we shop for clothes if we’re careful? And how should the rules differ in Half Moon Bay if we know of only 20 confirmed cases, versus, say, Daly City, where there are at least 10 times as many cases according to newly revealed counts by zip code?

Meanwhile, businesses of every kind are working to adapt to rules that seem to change at whim by the day. Local restaurateurs say they are considering the layout of their buildings and planning to keep workers and customers at sufficient distance to assure safety. The Half Moon Bay Golf Links is still deciding whether it should open, given restrictions like the 10-mile rule — which could change at any time. Last week, the governor hinted that schools could open as early as July, but that was news to the people who will actually be tasked to run them.

Shouldn’t we have one set of rules in California? It’s clear the federal government isn’t up to the task. Any patchwork of local regulations — differing from county to county — will fail to meet the challenge. We can’t shop willy-nilly in San Francisco County and return home without bringing those dangers with us.

Our reemergence has been likened to a dance and we understand the steps will be difficult. But the waltz can’t differ from place to place. Give us one, easy-to-understand, list of rules and change them as conditions change. Let common sense guide one set of rules that come from health authorities, not bureaucrats from Sacramento to Lake Shasta.

— Clay Lambert

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