I have, on many occasions, used this column to excoriate Donald Trump for the irrational things he says and does, but even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. For example, Trump warned that when it comes to dealing with our current healthcare crisis, the cure must not be worse than the disease.
He’s not alone in that thinking.
Last month, noted health professional Dr. David Katz wrote an OpEd for The New York Times, in which he challenged the logic of keeping an entire population of people locked in their homes as a way of defeating COVID-19.
Said Katz, “I am deeply concerned that the social, economic, and public health consequences of …schools and businesses closed and gatherings banned, will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself.” Katz refers to extended Stay at Home orders as, “Horizontal interdiction”, which requires, “containment policies applied to the entire population without consideration of their risk for severe infection.”
And that brings me to Governor Roy Cooper, and the damage he is doing to our State.
Last Thursday, Cooper held a virtual press conference to tell us that he is extending his stay at home order from April 29 to May 8. Then he unveiled a confusing, three phase plan for re-opening the economy which was even more virtual than the press conference. During Phase One, we’ll be allowed to get out more and buy a broader variety of goods. But wait a minute. He also said the Stay at Home order would continue in effect. So what happened to May 8? How can an order be extended to an end date, and then not end? Cooper also said that no more than 10 people will be allowed to gather. But what constitutes a gathering?
Scores of shoppers now gather in the grocery store, and any number of people are currently allowed to wander through public gardens. Yet the Governor implies that, in Phase One, more stores will open and only 10 people can be in a park at the same time. If you think this is confusing, wait till we get to Phase Two, which is supposed to go into effect “2 to 3 weeks” after Phase One.
Surprise! The Stay at Home order that was supposed to end on May 8, and then was extended (in advance) through Phase One, is STILL in effect during Phase Two. Among other things, Cooper says Houses of Worship can re-open so long as they reduce capacity. But how exactly are pastors going to determine who to admit, and if one extra person is allowed inside, will local Sheriffs shutter the church?
Clearly, Cooper is the one with the diminished capacity. Meanwhile, restaurants and bars can re-open in Phase Two so long as they reduce their capacity. But there are two problems with that. First, many restaurants will go under by the time we get to Phase Two, and second, the ones who are still just barely surviving, won’t be able to stay afloat by cutting their number of patrons in half.
Phase Three is supposed to begin “at least 4 to 6 weeks” after Phase Two.
Congratulations restaurant and bar owners! If you are still in business after being shut down for four to five months, you can now increase your capacity. It appears that salons can also re-open at this point, providing the owner hasn’t already filed for bankruptcy. And, the Governor says he will increase the number of people who can ”gather”, but doesn’t specify what that number will be.
Now to the timeline. If you think that Phase One will begin on May 9, you are sadly mistaken. It might not start until May 20 or June 1, and that delay might push back the start of Phase Three to September 1. Why? Because Roy Cooper’s plan is moot and disingenuous. Why? Because he can change the rules and guidelines at any given moment, or, as he kept saying, “If we don’t meet the benchmarks”. But we’ll NEVER meet the benchmarks until Roy wants us to, because the health data he relies on can be interpreted forty ways to Sunday.
For example, HHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says that the number of COVID-19 cases is still rising slightly. But the number of hospitalizations are on the decline. Translation? Nearly all of the people who contract the virus stay at home and get better. In fact, Dr. Katz says that 98% of people infected with COVID-19 do not require medical treatment, and that the small percentage of cases that do require such services are concentrated among the elderly who already have chronic illnesses. Logic would dictate, then, that those infected persons who stay isolated at home are no threat to anyone else.
But if that’s the case, and if everyone else practices social distancing, then why keep putting restrictions on the ENTIRE population of North Carolina? Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running against Cooper this Fall, said of Roy’s plan, “Governor Cooper’s one size fits all approach for re-opening is not necessary for a State as large as North Carolina. This decision will needlessly crush businesses and destroy livelihoods.”
Don’t get me wrong. As a senior citizen, I’m acutely aware that COVID-19 is dangerous, and we need to keep practicing social distancing. We also need tight restrictions in place for nursing homes, and we can’t afford to fill coliseums and stadiums just yet. But economists predict that the national unemployment rate could be as high as 15% by September, and that would put us dangerously close to a depression.
There are ways that small businesses CAN operate safely right now, and Roy Cooper knows it, but he’s going to keep stoking fear and moving the benchmarks until time to get re-elected, at which time his base will be grateful to him for keeping them safe through a crisis. Speaking for small business owners, I’m all for a phase-in plan, so long as it includes a plan for phasing out Roy Cooper Nov. 3.
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