As states reopen, the economy shouldn’t take priority over safety

*Articles reflect the views of the author and/or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the view of CCBC or The CCBC Connection.

Sean Knox

We’re currently living in a time of great uncertainty. It’s an experience that most of us never expected, and one that I’m sure all of us are ready to move on from as soon as possible.

Like most countries around the world, coronavirus has swept across the United States, leading to widespread social restrictions and imposed stay-at-home orders as states endeavor to slow the spread of the highly contagious illness.  At the time of writing, there are over 800,000 confirmed cases of the virus here in the United States, more than 40,000 people have died, and millions have been laid off as businesses have been forced to limit their services or close entirely.

Even for those of us who haven’t been hit hardest by the virus, reacting and adapting to necessary social distancing protocols has likely been challenging. Reduced social interaction can leave people feeling anxious and restless, eager to return to the comforting familiarity of normal social rhythms. Families are under additional stress with children who are unable to go to school, and many people currently working from home may be struggling to adapt their job requirements to a distance-based system.

While many of us understand the need for these restrictions, some are beginning to chafe and push back against virus suppression efforts. In recent weeks, we’ve heard some politicians and pundits calling for states to reopen and let the public go back to work. Protests have taken place across the country from Maryland to Washington State, with the President himself encouraging demonstrations despite opposition from disease experts and frontline healthcare workers.

Those opposing statewide restrictions often reference the heavily impacted economy: they claim that people need to get back to work, that the economy, and even the country itself, can only be saved by relaxing social distancing protocols. Some argue that federal or even statewide restrictions amount to an opposition of their rights, of their freedom as Americans. To hear some protestors tell it, it’s as if favoring the health and safety of our citizens over the strength of our economy is somehow unpatriotic.

The idea that coronavirus should be politicized or turned into some sort of partisan debate is ludicrous. Tens of thousands of Americans have died, and more will die in the days and weeks and months to come. That’s horrific, and yet you can still hear some politicians arguing that further deaths may effectively amount to “the cost of doing business.” Discussing the possibility of losing even more lives to this disease for the sake of improving economic numbers is abhorrent.

No one is denying the importance of the economy, but it cannot take precedence over public safety. This is not a time for politicians to squabble over whether or not the government should spend money on stimulus packages. This is not a time to rail against quarantine efforts simply because we’re tired of compromising our lifestyles for more than a couple of months.

Rushing this process will not give us the results we so desperately want. We can’t wish the virus away simply because we’re tired of it and trying to whip people into a frenzy to get “back to work” won’t stop further outbreaks if we aren’t fully prepared to reopen. We need to look to pandemics of the past to understand the danger of opening up too soon. We need reliable widespread testing, and we need to understand both where this virus is most prevalent right now and where and how it would be likely to spread.

Along with continuing to take the threat of the virus seriously, we have to recognize that people and businesses are suffering on a massive scale, but also acknowledge that the solution isn’t to immediately send people back to work. The government has to accept that further stimulus bills will almost certainly be necessary, including provisions to both keep businesses afloat and to ensure that people can continue to feed their families and pay rent. We need to accept that a successful bid to reopen the country and resuscitate the economy will require both continued government spending and actual marked progress against COVID-19.

I understand that we’re all waiting for a time when our country can declare that we have the virus under control. Infectious disease experts and the scientists guiding the national response to the virus have reassured us that we will get there, but that it will take time. Many states are still struggling with testing and equipment shortages, and there is a consensus that every state will need to establish reliable, widespread testing protocols and detailed reopening plans before they can begin to gradually reduce restrictions.

For a prime example of this, look no further than Maryland. Our state currently has more than 16,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and just experienced a single-day surge of almost 1,000 new cases. We don’t have a handle on coronavirus, and hospitals are still bracing for an increase in cases. While we will have a valuable increase in testing courtesy of 500,000 test kits purchased from South Korea, we still need so much more. Before we can attempt to reopen the state, we need a dependable testing process in place to ensure that we can test as many people as possible, we need to see a consistent and steady decline in the number of new cases, and we still need a strategy that will prevent a resurgence of the virus.

To put it mildly: we’re not there yet. I know we all want to be, but we’re not. Relaxing restrictions before the country is ready will not only lead to more avoidable deaths but will likely extend the quarantine we are all so eager to escape. This will also cause continued damage to the economy along the way.

This is not the time to give in to frustration and impatience. Right now we need to make the harder choice: we need to wait.

*Articles reflect the views of the author and/or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the view of CCBC or The CCBC Connection.

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