A sense of hope and relief crashed into apprehension on Tuesday when Gov. Roy Cooper announced that his stay-at-home order will end at 5 p.m. today as we shift to Phase 1 of his reopening plan.
Who isn’t eager for our state to reopen? But doing so too soon could only make a bad situation worse.
Cooper’s new order will allow essential businesses, including clothing stores, sporting goods stores and bookshops, to reopen at up to 50% of capacity — as long as social distancing guidelines are maintained. State parks also will be allowed to reopen.
The order also requires thorough cleaning routines. And it encourages, but does not mandate, cloth face coverings to be worn when outside the home and in contact with others.
These changes won’t be overly dramatic, but whether a move to Phase 2 will follow rightly will depend on trends in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, among other data. On Tuesday, Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said that most of those metrics have been headed in the right direction over the past week or so, including a drop in the number of people reporting symptoms of COVID-19; expanded testing for the virus; a lower percentage of positive tests; and a flat trend of hospitalizations.
But as of Thursday, 13,478 state residents had tested positive for coronavirus, an increase of 639 over Wednesday, and a total of 507 had died, an increase of 30 over the previous day. In Guilford County, where 35 people have died from COVID-19-related illnesses, infections climbed to 536. It’s fair to say that even while a shift to Phase 1 is hopeful news, we’re still treading on shaky ground.
Then there are the politics. A bill backed by some conservatives in the state Senate would allow businesses that violate the governor’s orders to receive only a $25 fine. That would be dangerous and irresponsible.
Meanwhile, the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association sent a letter to Cooper last week urging him to skip even the Phase 1 requirements and reopen restaurants for traditional dining.
Yet one national poll after another shows a reluctance among Americans to move too fast. Sixty-three percent of respondents to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday expressed concerns that states would lift restrictions too quickly — versus 29% who said they were worried that states weren’t moving fast enough. Last week, in an Ipsos poll for Reuters, 70% of adults said they were avoiding large gatherings of people as much as possible; 55% said they regularly wear masks in public, including nearly half of Republicans.
Those who are calling for boycotts of stores that practice safety measures, like Ashley Smith, the leader of ReOpen NC, may want to consider, well, other people, including the business owners. No business will be successful if its customers feel unsafe.
We know this is hard. The financial and emotional costs have been severe. About 20% of the entire state labor force has lost jobs in the last six weeks. Everyone is eager for a change.
Other states, from New Hampshire to California (and Georgia, notably) are also reopening — some, even as their rates of infection are rising. It may be tempting to follow suit, even if they flounder.
To those who think that “we can’t let the cure be worse than the disease,” ignoring restrictions could be a “cure” that only strengthens the disease and sets us back.
For the sake of lives that could be lost, let’s continue to play it safe.