Pandemic Expert Rips Governor Newsom for Relaxing Stay-at-Home Order

Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam says numbers were trending in the right direction because of the order.

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A pandemic expert who has advocated strict community lockdowns as a way to curb the COVID-19 pandemic is blasting California Gov. Gavin Newsom for relaxing the stay at home orders.

“I don’t even know what they’re thinking," said Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam. "There’s no strategy, there’s no plan, they’re just saying, ‘Hey, we’re a little bit better so we’re going to open up.’ That just doesn’t make any sense."

Bar-Yam is a scientist and founder of the New England Complex Systems Institute, as well as a pandemic expert who helped curb the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He argues that a focused lockdown of communities and neighborhoods could put an end to the virus in four to six weeks.

But this week, Bar-Yam is criticizing Newsom’s decision to relax the recent stay-at-home order as another example of "yo-yo" lockdowns that don’t work.

“It means we’re going to shoot back up and hit into the horrendous situation that we were in, and what we really want is to be far away from that condition,” Bar-Yam said.

On Monday, Newsom lifted the shutdown order because overall COVID-19 case numbers are dropping. He said hospitalization rates and ICU availability are both trending in favorable directions.

Bar-Yam said the trends were favorable because of the very shutdown order that was lifted.

“We have these yo-yo lockdowns, which don’t help businesses, and, surely, it’s the worst scenario in terms of getting people sick,” Bar-Yam said.

Bar-Yam said vaccinations will help but full effectiveness is still 6 to 12 months away. He’s also concerned about variants of the virus, which he said will cause the number of cases to increase in the coming weeks.

“In the expected scenario, the vaccine will not stop things," Bar-Yam said. "What we need to do is to combine the vaccine, which, again, is a powerful tool, with the things that we know -- distancing from others, wearing masks and stay-at-home orders -- so we can get rid of the virus."

Bar-Yam said a focused lockdown of four to six weeks and eliminating nonessential travel between during that time would limit the possibility of transmission. The results are so-called Green Zones, with a goal of zero positive cases within those zones.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming heard nurses react to Governor Newsom's decision to lift the stay-at-home order.

Bar-Yam said a big challenge is convincing people they have the ability to make it happen -- and not beikng overwhelmed by vocal opponents.

“It’s this classic problem of the silent majority: People who are not talking enough are the ones that really want to take the action," Bar-Yam said. "And they’re watching the people that are saying, ‘Hey, we won’t do this,’ and that’s paralyzing them and disabling them, and everyone feels disempowered."

The California Nurses Association also released a statement in opposition to the stay-at-home order lift, saying it puts patients, nurses and health care workers at risk. Statewide, more than 82,500 health care professionals have been sickened by COVID-19 and 324 have died, according to the association.

"We're very, very busy and we are, you know, running out of room sometimes," one nurse told NBC 7. "Our hope is to take care of everybody. We can't do that if we're out of room. We're constantly short staffed. Nurses are working 16 hours and coming from other units."

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