It’s Time To Reopen

We need to establish the new normal.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Epidemiologists at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and politicians alike promoted lockdowns in March as a means to “flatten the curve” and reduce the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic so it wouldn’t overwhelm our medical infrastructure. In most places, the curve has now been flattened. Field hospitals are now empty, and many hospitals across the country, having postponed potentially lifesaving “nonessential” procedures such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and knee surgeries, have extra room.

Since the United States began experiencing a downward slope in coronavirus cases, however, the narrative has changed. We are now asked to pretend that lockdown can “crush the curve,” even though we’ve been locked down for over two months, and our situation still doesn't look like Taiwan, where the virus was contained from the beginning. Politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo claim that it is “absurd” to put dollar values to human lives in policy decisions; however, calculus isn’t lives versus the stock market: it’s lives versus lives.

Unemployment in America has assumed levels last seen in the Great Depression, suicide rates are spiking, and world hunger rates are projected to double from 2019. The government and the Federal Reserve can write stimulus bills and print money for only so long. While experts measure the economy in numbers, it is made up of millions of Americans and is the basis for all our livelihoods. No amount of money can prop up an economy that barely exists and sustain the millions who are forced to live on meager government stimulus payments. We need to fully reopen our economy as safely as possible.

While all 50 states are now returning to normal in some capacity, many guidelines are still too restrictive and slow. The reopening date for many small businesses like restaurants and retailers, industries where mere days can be the difference between staying afloat and permanently closing, is at least a month away. Many governors still “require” their citizens to remain socially distant, and the CDC recommends that all commuters avoid mass transit. However, New York City cannot function without subways and the six feet apart rule. A reopening plan that pretends we can continue total isolation outside of our homes will only serve to stoke people’s rational fears with delusion. If we want to undo the endless damage done to millions of livelihoods and seek an economic recovery, our guidelines must engage with the real cities we live in to slow the spread.

The steps to a successful reopening are threefold.

First, the mere fact that some guidelines are flawed does not mean all of them should be ignored. Universal masking, contact tracing, distancing outside when possible, and banning large gatherings are solutions that slow the spread of the virus while allowing for normal economic activity.

Second, the virus differentiates between age groups and those with pre-existing conditions, so any intelligent policy should too. Governments should financially encourage those with comorbidities to stay home and make sure that no one is forced to put themselves or their family members into a high-risk situation, such as going to workplaces or schools.

Third, the government must trust each person to be able to make their own personal risk assessment. The COVID-19-relevant statistics for every demographic must be made available as soon as possible. At this stage, popular understanding of risk is critical, and the CDC must practically plaster it onto the front page of its website. Everyone has been forced into a game of Russian Roulette with varying odds. When someone decides that their entire economic livelihood is worth a few spins, they should have the right to play with an understanding of their odds.

The key to a successful reopening is to maximize normal activity while preventing a massive second spike that could overwhelm the hospital system. According to the
CDC, “the big question is now how to handle the peaks to come—all while resurrecting our devastated economy.” There is no scenario where COVID-19 is defeated by our powerful lockdown. Instead, our reopening should put friction in the transmission of the virus, permitting room to spread at a manageable rate.

A successful reopening is also about easing fears. Lockdown itself has a demoralizing effect on us. The anxiety I now feel near other people would only be increased in a lockdown that asks us all to stay impossibly distant. An honest reopening—with politicians and health authorities promising only a slower spread—could help relieve some of the neurosis we’ve all experienced over the past months.

Embracing reopening and sensible precautions is also an expedient political strategy for Democrats. An election where the only voice for a return to normalcy comes from the right will lead to the reelection of the president. Instead, Americans should properly feel that the Democrats want a level-headed, but just as strong of a reopening as the president, and that their priorities still lie with the poor and working class that are hurt the most by the lockdown. Americans see President Donald Trump on TV actively avoiding wearing a mask, while Joe Biden sets a proper example. Americans want to return to work, but they also want safety. Democrats should capitalize on both those things to help themselves in November.

Just as the health crisis demands quick action to alleviate the worst effects, the economic crisis also needs an immediate decisive remedy. Stimulus funds are almost depleted while companies go bankrupt every day laying off employees. Most won’t ever get the chance to reopen.

A full opening of society is necessary to restore the economic and social well-being of this country. A safe opening of this country is needed to keep the curve flattened. We might have to endure the annoyance of cloth on our face, the NYC summer heat while eating outdoors at a restaurant, and the lack of physical closeness to important people in our lives, but we will have our livelihoods, jobs, and once again, human interaction. We can and should mitigate and prevent excess deaths, but until we get a vaccine, the novel disease is a new fact of life. Our country can only work with the hand we have been given. We now must try to prevent other forms of excess misery and death brought on by the pandemic response and reopen our economy.