Reopening is near, but discipline still needed

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We have now reached the next stage of the coronavirus pandemic — the reopening of our economy. How this critical phase is managed will mean the difference between a safe, orderly reopen and a chaotic rush that could reignite the outbreak and undo months of disciplined sheltering.

Last week, shocking images emerged from reopening protests in Sacramento and even Santa Rosa. They come on the heels of rallies held in other states, some of them armed.

It’s safe to say that quarantine fatigue has set in across the country and everyone wants a return to normalcy. Even the most disciplined shelterer does not want to keep doing it a day longer than necessary.

We certainly feel the frustration of those protesting, but large gatherings of unmasked people in state capitals is only going to prolong the pain.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sonoma County Health Officer Sundari Mase have laid out a clear road map to follow to reopen our economy. Starting this week, some restrictions were eased on certain outdoor businesses, construction work and park access. These are welcome steps after more than a month of near total lockdown.

Protesters look at the current infection and death rate compared with the projections and argue that we should reopen because our current reality is nowhere near the dire projections. But this is a disingenuous argument.

Our current reality is not as bad as projected precisely because the lockdown and social distancing has worked. It would be so much worse if we rushed to reopen like many protesters are advocating.

But to write the protesters off as misguided would be to miss a valid point that they are making. The goal of the shutdown has been to save lives from the deadly coronavirus, but at some point the economic toll will also result in the loss of life.

Experts expect the suicide rate to go up as millions lose jobs and can no longer provide for their families. The social isolation alone is having a negative effect on mental health.

For vulnerable people who are precariously housed, the loss of a job could lead to a life on the streets, where life expectancy is considerably lower.

So yes, there is a human cost to the shutdown, but right now it is less than the human cost of steepening the infection rate curve that an abrupt and complete reopening would surely bring.

Newsom noted that California has passed the marks of 50,000 cases and 2,000 deaths, but is buoyed by the flattening of the curve, according to the Associated Press. But, he added: “We can screw all that up. We can set all that back by making bad decisions. All of that works because people have done an incredible job in their physical distancing.”

Our state and county health officials are not part of some tyrannical government overreach. They are trying to save as many lives as possible. As we come out of this, look for more easing of restrictions on a weekly basis until eventually we are back to normal.

We have come far and sacrificed a lot in the past two months and we will get through this, it will just take a little more patience and resolve.

And if you still feel the need to protest, which is a right that has not been and should not be suspended even in a pandemic, please do it safely.

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