Labs of Democracy Chart Our Reopening

By Daily Editorials

May 6, 2020 4 min read

Now that the number of new coronavirus cases is leveling off, debate within the U.S. has shifted to how quickly, and in what manner, the country should begin to reopen and revive its heavily damaged economy. The good news is that thanks to our federalist system, there doesn't have to be a single national plan. Instead, individual states have been able to experiment with approaches to reopening and, in the coming weeks, will be able to learn from each other based on their results.

That the growth in cases slowed within weeks of aggressive social distancing suggests that some of its strictures were well aimed. But because the country moved so quickly from normal life to near-total lockdown, there isn't much data on what types of interventions were most effective.

How much is the spread slowed merely by the widespread wearing of masks, frequent hand-washing, the avoiding of handshakes, more awareness of staying home when sick, more testing, and more disinfecting of public places? None of those things necessarily involved closing businesses.

States have taken several approaches to reopening. Some are hesitant to do so out of fear that easing too soon could lead to a new wave of infections. But others are moving to loosen restrictions. This is a good thing.

Georgia has been particularly aggressive, allowing a broad spectrum of businesses to reopen, including theaters, restaurants, hair and nail salons, gyms, and bowling alleys. Many health officials and President Donald Trump say they think this is premature. If these critics are right, it will become apparent with rising infections and deaths by the middle of May. Though any increase in deaths is regrettable, a rise in mortality in one state is better than a similar rise nationwide. If it turns out Georgia does not see a surge, that will signal to other states that there is room to loosen restrictions further.

Georgia is not the only example. Mississippi and Alabama have transitioned stay-at-home orders to a "safer at home" approach, which limits large gatherings and keeps salons closed but allows outdoor activities and lets retailers open at 50% occupancy. Texas is trying a more gradual approach, allowing retailers, movie theaters, restaurants, and malls to open, but at 25% capacity. If the state gets through two weeks without a flare-up, then allowable capacity could be doubled by May 18.

If people are free to move about the country, somebody in a less restrictive state can travel to another state, and thus transmit the virus. But with big public events canceled and with warnings against travel, large numbers of people are unlikely to move between states. Just to look at one indicator, air travel is down 95% from where it was a year ago. Some people might drive to another, less restrictive state to go shopping, but widespread interstate travel is not happening.

We have called for an approach that takes public health into account but also recognizes the vital importance of economic health and human freedom. Without a vaccine or significant medical breakthrough, the near- and medium-term future is one in which we will have to adapt and accept greater safeguards. But life has to return to some semblance of normal. By acting as laboratories of democracy, states are allowing the nation to find out how it can best do that.

The Washington Examiner

REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE

Photo credit: PhotoMIX-Company at Pixabay

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