Shirola: A handful of governors have placed our entire country at risk


Wesley Shirola, Columnist

On April 16, President Donald Trump issued Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three-phased plan agreed upon by public health experts. The plan provides no specific date for reopening. Instead, it leaves this decision up to state and local officials to decide.

“We are starting our life again,” Trump said at his daily press conference.

The plan includes a list of criteria that a state or region must meet before proceeding to the phased reopening. Criteria include a downward trajectory of both influenza-like illnesses and covid-like cases reported within a 14-day period and a robust testing system in place for at-risk healthcare workers, available treatment for all patients.

States or regions must also demonstrate either a downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period.

Such criteria appear to be flexible, however. The plan claims that “state and local officials may need to tailor the application of these criteria to local circumstances.”

And many state officials seem to be doing just that. Several have already eased stay-at-home orders and begun to reopen parts of their economies, despite the fact that none of these states currently meets all of the federal criteria. In fact, only four states in the entire nation satisfy federal guidelines and many still exhibit exponential growth in their number of cases. Residents in South Carolina were allowed to head to beaches and shops last week. Georgia’s governor permitted gyms, barbers and massage therapists to reopen Friday. The state’s theaters and restaurants began reopening today.

Many others, including Texas, the second most populous state in the nation, have announced plans to lift stay-at-home orders and begin reopening by the end of this week.

The governors of these states are not only placing their own residents at significant risk, but are in turn placing the rest of us at risk too. Both SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — as well as American people, can freely and easily cross state lines. A half-open/half-closed country makes controlling the spread of the virus much more difficult and may very well require additional shutdowns in the weeks and months ahead. Thus, an America in which some states keep stay-at-home orders in place and others do not is extremely dangerous and will likely end up being more harmful than simply staying shut down for a few more weeks.

The governors of the states in question ought to be held responsible for their grossly negligent actions.

Of course, I understand the governors’ eagerness to get their states reopened as quickly as possible. Not only are we all getting restless from being holed up in our houses for the past several weeks, but our country is experiencing one of the biggest economic downturns in history. Over 25 million Americans have lost their jobs. Service workers are placing themselves at risk on a daily basis in order to keep shelves stocked with food, ensure that our mail and packages arrive on time and care for the sick.

And despite several stimulus packages, including a historic $2 trillion one last month, being signed into law, and personal checks of $1200 (for most who qualify) being sent directly to a large swathe of the country, many Americans are still struggling to support themselves and their families. And we must not forget the pain suffered by the friends and family of the more than 50,000 Americans that have been killed by the coronavirus.

Public health should take priority for the time being. Keeping the nation locked down for a few more weeks would likely prevent unnecessary deaths and lower the chances of future lockdowns, which in turn would only exacerbate the nation’s economic woes.

Quarantines and social distancing work. On April 20, New York reported its fewest new cases in a month and its death toll was under 500 for the first time in many weeks. All it takes is a few states to throw away such measures for the virus to kick right back into high gear.

Not only that, but experts say the country is not even ready to reopen. Researchers at Harvard report that the country needs 5 million tests per day by the beginning of June and 20 million per day by the end of July to ensure a safe and complete opening. Throughout this month, however, the number of daily tests being conducted in the country has hovered around 150,000 — far below the level deemed necessary for reopening the country.

The coronavirus pandemic is scary. The virus is deadly. But our nation is strong, and we are on course to beat this virus. We shouldn’t let a few reckless governors corrupt our diligent efforts and endanger innocent lives.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.