A Matter of Time?

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I get it – people want businesses to reopen. They want their normal lives back (work, beaches, bars, etc). They want to feed their families and meet their financial obligations. I think we can all agree on the end, but do we have to be so partisan about the means to get there?

It’s not clear what images of a noose, the confederate flag, a swastika . . . or men in full tactical gear carrying weapons . . . have to do with protesting stay at home orders. It is all beyond troubling for me. I get it – we cannot stay at home forever. The psychology involved in where you stay at home possibly dictates whether you cloak yourself in confederate flags, swastikas, and assault weapons when you wish to state your desire to return to work. But, when states implemented Phase 1 reopening, should it include massive pool parties and drinks at the local bar?

This virus to date, has taken the lives of more than 100,000 Americans. I get it – people want to get out, meet with their friends for dinner and drinks, crowd beaches and enjoy the beautiful weather. Our family stayed home and will likely exercise as much caution with the beginning of Phase 2 on June 5, 2020.

I get that “when” to open is a question, but I also believe that “how” is the more pressing question.

“When” seems to be the main concern for many, including protestors. Let’s start there. For many people unable to work from home, not getting a paycheck is the beginning of financial ruin. The stimulus checks (if you have received one) provide little to nothing of a safety net. Few have begun to received unemployment insurance checks. I get it. After stay at home orders were lifted in Phase 1 and more businesses began operating again that certainly could begin to ease the pressure.

An untold number of businesses are unable to meet their expenses if the doors are closed. The same may be true for some when they’re restricted to 25% occupancy. Rents are due; employees are laid off and loan payments must be made. For businesses that could modify operations and remain open as essential, sales were often so low they could not get to a break-even point. Small business stimulus and paycheck protection assistant from the federal government has been plagued with technical, procedural and oversight problems. If you managed to tap into that assistance, you were more likely not a main-street America small business and had other funding options.  But the lure of a 7-figure government grant (as opposed to a loan you’d have to repay) was just too enticing for some companies that are publicly-traded or those that boast seven, eight or nine figure revenue streams. Meanwhile, those most in need are still at the ruin’s doorstep.

But is time the most important factor in determining when businesses should begin operating again? No, time alone is not the principle measure of return. Mayors, governors, and the federal government have seen tremendous success in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 during the stay at home orders.  Government officials risk the near-guaranteed significant spikes in new cases and deaths if time alone is the deciding factor. Data from medical experts is clearly a more important marker. Government officials must have adequate time to evaluate the new case and death rates prior to moving to Phase 2 in Louisiana.

In his recent virtual testimony before the U. S. Senate, Dr. Anthony Fauci cautioned us about what can happen if reopening is done outside specific parameters. We don’t have a vaccine yet so continued identification of those infected with the coronavirus, and those they have been in contact with, should be a major component of a transition to some semblance of normalcy. When we have a plan to conduct that surveillance and trace contacts, we will have the answer to both “when” and “how”.

“We would almost turn the clock back, rather than going forward”

Dr. Anthony Fauci

I‘m not comfortable returning to restaurants, movie houses, or many other businesses at this time despite a phased reopening plan in my community. But that’s my personal choice. I get it – If you can’t work from home, you don’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you don’t want to stay home

Then there are those who don’t really have a choice.  If you work in a nursing home, grocery store, hospital or doctor’s office, stay at home may not be an option. Some will feel safe. Some won’t. Many will feel they have no choice because they need the job; they need the money. That is a real impact on everyday people.

If you run a business, the health of your business is at risk just as much as the health of your employees. Restaurants are a good example. Remain closed too long and you may never recover. Open too soon – under mandatory constraints to occupancy – and you may never get the following you once had.  Not to mention that widespread opening in any geographic area could result in a spike of new cases and the business must close AGAIN.

So “how” do we reopen? Incremental movement seems inevitable. I’d like to see a geographic component as part of the process. One way to ensure that we are, in fact, incremental in our approach is to incorporate reasonable scientific data into the decision process. We should continue to ramp up testing and contact tracing. That’s the simplest way to gather the information needed. Call it whatever you want but that data is vitally important to how we move forward.

Controlling the spread of COVID-19 has to include knowing who has the virus and who they have been in close contact with. Policy or political agendas claiming privacy violations or other infractions simply have a myopic view of our future. There have been a significant number of confirmed and verified reports of people that don’t know they are spreading the virus because they are asymptomatic. It’s imperative we know who they are and who their close contacts have been.

If we fail to develop a protocol to identify and isolate those who are likely to spread COVID-19 we cannot move forward in the safest fashion possible. How we move forward does not mean waiting on a vaccine – that brings a host of challenges.

First, that wait may be too long. There is no guarantee that we’ll see an approved vaccine in the time some are promising. Second, a vaccine prevents a disease, not treat it. Even with an approved vaccine, we still have to consider those who are asymptomatic, still spreading the virus and opting not to get the vaccine . . . yet. We need to know who they are and, once again, surveillance is the way to collect that information.

So yeah, I get it. I just don’t want to get it.