Before calling for reopening economies, ask yourselves who’s expendable

April 21, 2020 12:02 am

A few dozen protesters gathered on Capitol Square to protest Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay at home order Thursday. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Here’s a question for all those people rushing headlong to reopen the U.S. economy, some of whom protested in various state capitals over the past week, including here in Virginia.

Which one of your children, siblings or parents should be sacrificed on the altar of Wall Street so that consumer spending can return to normal during the ongoing COVID19-outbreak?

If you’re married or have a partner, have you flipped a coin to determine which one of you is more expendable?

Have you re-read Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, “The Lottery,” as a primer on such human offerings?

I’ll wait for your answers.

Many folks — conservative politicians, business groups and gun-rights activists among them — have screamed “Enough!” Their gut tells them it’s time to rehire millions of laid-off employees, sit down in restaurants for dinner again and gather in ballparks, arenas and concert venues to cheer on athletes and entertainers.

They say it’s time to quit or curtail the social distancing that’s prevented the number of COVID-19 deaths and infections from rising even higher nationwide.

Politics is part of this, of course: President Donald Trump, with his botched leadership and slow response during the outbreak, has defended the recent citizen protests and said some governors “have gone too far” with their restrictions.

I’m not on their side.

I trust the scientists and infectious-disease experts, thank you. When they say we can go outside without a mask and shake hands sans regret, I’ll follow that advice.

I listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert – and one of the few officials willing to publicly correct the president’s lies and falsehoods. Again on Monday, he warned against reopening the country too soon.

“Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He added: “So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back.”

Besides, could you imagine Americans reverting to social distancing after the rules are relaxed? Given our nature, voluntary compliance will be that much tougher the second time around.

Such a level-headed approach has had to contend with recent protests in places like Lansing, Mich., in which motorists caused gridlock around the state Capitol last week. News reports say a group called the Michigan Conservative Coalition organized the event that drew thousands – and in which some protesters chanted “lock her up!” referring to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The specific “crime” to be named later, I suppose, in this Hillary Clinton-redux chant. It gives you a glimpse of their mind-set. Demonstrators are planning a similar action for the reconvened session of the General Assembly in Richmond Wednesday.

Yet many people understand the need for caution to fight this invisible, devastating pandemic. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found that 95 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans support a national stay-at-home order.

Some people, particularly Republicans, also oppose the curbs Gov. Ralph Northam has proclaimed here in Virginia. Last week, the guv said he was extending mandatory closures for certain types of businesses by two weeks, setting a new expiration date of May 8. His stay-at-home order asking residents to keep their butts in the houses remains in effect until June 10.

He’s doing that so the commonwealth doesn’t face the carnage of places like New York City and Detroit.

The Virginia Department of Health, as of Monday, reports the state has suffered nearly 9,000 cases of COVID-19 and 300 deaths. (Because testing has been limited, the true numbers are invariably higher. Northam on Sunday said the president’s claims that the country has enough tests for the virus are “delusional.”)

We all want the economy to hum again, people to return to work and neighbors and friends to move freely around our cities. But in returning to normalcy, we can’t advocate a “Hunger Games”-style thinning of the herd.

That doesn’t make sense.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]