Has anybody else had trouble making sense out of the cascade of shifting advice and orders of what to do about this COVID thing? I feel like a pingpong ball in an international tournament. “Do this!” “No, do that!” And no matter what the order is, it is always announced in the most serious, stentorian tones. Sometimes it’s accompanied with the threat of criminal or administrative repercussions.

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens who are trying to understand and analyze the information can never quite get the right data to make an informed choice. I tried pulling out some numbers from the local “Dashboard” and it was quite a chore. Here’s a few (accurate as of last Thursday) you might not have been given.

I hate to give statistics but here are a few I found. Young people from 0 to 17 years old are 30 percent of Kern’s population, but their 1,366 cases are only 11 percent of Kern’s total cases. Adults age 18 to 49 are 40 percent of the population, but their 7,683 cases are 62 percent of all cases. Adults ages 50 to 64 are 16 percent of the people and their 2,177 cases are 18 percent of all cases. And adults 65 and over are 14 percent of our citizens and their 1,097 cases are only 9 percent of all cases.

Kern County females are 48.75 percent of the population, but they have 53.7 percent of the cases. Males are 51.25 percent and have 46.3 percent of the cases.

Put all that together and the person most likely to test positive for COVID-19 is a woman in her 30s. And recent data indicates that she is most likely to be Hispanic as that group appears to be one-third more likely to test positive than their population numbers represent.

But what good is a test if it is seven to 10 days old? If it is positive that person is most likely to be over it by the time he or she finds out. And if it is negative, a whole world of further exposures might require a further test and a different result. Moreover, the evening news typically reports on the new positive tests reported that day. But that is when the results are announced, not when the test was taken. The results could be giving you seven- to 10-day-old information.

The county Dashboard now appears to be reporting positive cases as of the date of the test and not the date of the results. That means the daily total for a day a week ago can and will change if another positive test is reported that was taken that date. So what can an average citizen actually know about trends?

And then there are those stern voices telling us what to do. First we were told the virus was airborne and everywhere. Then we were told it was from droplets that fell within the six feet of social distancing. Now we are back to it being airborne. I have seen one report that a person running on the bike path can leave a cloud of virus in the air for 30 feet behind them. And all of these voices tell us to “trust the science!” Which science? Yesterday’s? Today’s? Tomorrow’s? The World Health Organization says one meter (three feet) is enough social distancing. We are observing two meters (six feet).

Finally, there is the science about the virus itself. It appears it is here to stay. It is a coronavirus. So are SARS, HIV, the flu and the common cold. Which one of them has a vaccine? But we are assured we will have one for COVID-19 by the end of the year. Now we are being told that people who have had the virus appear to lose their antibodies against it within a few weeks to a few months. If the disease doesn’t create long-lasting antibodies, what is the likelihood a vaccine will do so? The president of Brazil has tested positive for it three times. Not three times for the same infection, but three separate times.

The virus is serious. Younger people get it in disproportionate numbers because they are out and about, but the results are most often mild or uncomfortable. Older people get it in numbers fewer than their part of the population, but when they do, it can be devastating and deadly. Older people usually hunker down, limit exposure and avoid it, but when it gets into retirement homes it is a tragedy.

All of this seems to suggest that any idea of herd immunity from a vaccine or antibodies in those around us is a myth. So …

No expert and certainly no politician is ever going to have the courage to take anything except the most severe preventative steps which will likely keep us all unemployed and masked. Does anyone believe the ordinary American will still be at home with the kids out of school and in a mask at the store a year from now? Five years from now?

Sooner or later, people will simply get on with life and ignore the experts and politicians. They’ll feel guilty, but they will do it. Here’s how to take away the guilt.

I suggest we identify a “Designated Villain” (or if you come from a Judeo-Christian tradition, a “scapegoat”). This person, chosen at random, will simply declare that despite the continued presence of COVID-19 and its dangers, life will have to go on. That will give citizens the excuse to get back to life as normal without guilt since they will have someone to blame for the bad things that will happen anyway. And those who choose or need to maintain separation can do so, content in the knowledge they are on the side of the angels (or experts and politicians, which is not the same group).

Here’s my modest proposal: that we choose a “Designated Villain” to declare that life must go on despite COVID-19 who will take away the guilt we would feel from doing what we will eventually do anyway.

Jon Stuebbe is retired after 20 years as a Kern County Superior Court judge. He was previously dean of California Pacific School of Law. The views expressed here are his own.

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(7) comments

Lil ole me

With all due respect, Sir, what are we to do when our very infrastructure is beyond surge and utterly fails? This is my primary worry if we continue the course we have collectively chosen that has definitively shown to fail to keep the inevitable infections to a manageable level. I do agree with you this will be with us for an unknown period of years. We will all be infected at some point. But the goal is to manage the rate of infection in order to not overwhelm the many infrastructure resources that this little virus affects. So a designated villian does not seem to help achieve the goal. No disrespect intended.


I am thinking that responses apologizing up front do so because the writer is or was a judge in our County. Expressing a disagreement is not in any way disrespectful, rather it is an important aspect of civil discourse. Especially when the reasons for disagreement are compelling and the writing articulate. Good job in all of the above.

Lil ole me

Apologies are necessary if your opinion does not match the narrative in order to get thru the moderator.


SIMPLE: Wear a mask and socially distance until the infection curve flattens. This is what countries that successfully managed the virus did, in addition to tracking, and their citizens are now back to relatively ordinary lives. Experts did not know enough about the virus at the beginning to provide clear information. But pretty quickly the right way made itself known. Being confused at that point and not knowing which best practices to follow was a choice.


Wow, really? No disrespect, but....

Don't you think maybe we should try to squeeze the virus down in numbers, try a vaccine and prevent long term damage in people who become infected. Because survivors of this little virus are discovering internal scaring, brain inflammation and other damage.

Judge, you decided people's fate daily and I wonder how cavalier you were.

No disrespect.

Inconvenient Truth

Sorry Judge; you’re making far too much sense.

(You only overlooked one other data point: scientists are just now discovering that there appears to be pre-existing immunity in a large percentage of the population; very likely from exposure to other Coronaviruses. This means that Covid-19 is not quite as “Novel” as first thought...)


The team that discovered this is in Singapore. While they did find that 50% of its population had a pre-existing immunity in the form of T-cells, it is not proven that this will prevent someone from getting Covid-19. The team will be conducting a larger study of exposed, uninfected subjects to examine whether T cells can protect against COVID-19 infection or alter the course of infection.

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