Can we afford not to reopen America?

Special to

By John J. Metzler

Since mid-March the American economy has been on pandemic lockdown. Commercial, social and educational interaction have faced a form of limbo, forced to follow a still uncertain script dictated by the deadly coronavirus and decreed by state governors.

For many of us, the world seems suspended in time; the proverbial “snow days” for the schools and business are turning into a stormy season with dire economic consequences. U.S. jobless numbers have now surged beyond 22 million as restaurants and the retail industry have been devastated. So too have been airlines and leisure travel.

Just two months ago, the U.S. economy boasted the lowest unemployment in more than a half-century with a robust growth to match; today the shutdown economy is beginning to trend towards the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Small business remains on intravenous as government loans support most firms. Nonetheless you can’t make business plans, never mind payroll, nor progress by treading water. The world remains frozen in time; People are hurting. Walk around, drive around, see them, and have empathy especially for countless firms devastated by the pandemic.

Americans want to get back to work. This is no idle slogan but a gripping necessity. Both President Donald Trump and many state governors want to Reopen America through a cautious and phased plan, working in concert with scientists and testing to bring in a step by step reopening for many parts of the USA not affected by the coronavirus.

Much of this is aspirational, certainly carries risk, but, at the same time, reflects the reality that large parts of the country have profoundly different levels of risk and exposure. State governors have the final say and not the federal government over the specific reopening plan for each of the fifty states. This is a tailored response reflecting the federal system not a one size fits all diktat.

Does this mean an opening of the delayed baseball season and other sporting events?

Not likely. Schools and universities remain closed for the semester too.

Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic advisor concedes, that it may be possible “to re-open the U.S. economy in the next four to eight weeks.” That’s still a long time especially given it’s spring with greening, warming, and the urge to get outside in the sunshine. This means more than just Florida reopening its beautiful beaches.

No serious person denies coronavirus’ deadly global impact; Western Europe has been ravaged by levels of civilian deaths not seen since WWII. Italy, the worst affected country, has seen 23,000 fatalities, 20,000 in Spain and 19,000 in France. Yet in Europe we see cautious reopening in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Slovakia. In France, on the other hand, there’s still a draconian stay at home order which the state enforces down to the personal level of carrying mandatory permission papers for daily walks and food market sorties!

Here in the USA the COVID-19 fatalities have reached a stunning 41,000 people. The majority of the cases are focused in various “hotspot” metro areas such as New York, New Jersey, California, and Louisiana. Still many other states are happily not facing the same dire health risks and thus have more flexibility to isolate vulnerable groups and carefully reopen.

In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott said that two people would be allowed to return to work at the offices of “low-contact professional services, like realtors, appraisers, municipal clerks and attorneys.” Equally, construction firms could work with two person crews. Farmers Markets could reopen after May 1st.

In Texas, Governor Gregg Abbott launched, “Strike Force to Open Texas,” which nonetheless offers a cautious framework to be determined by “data and by doctors.” The Lone Star State is the world’s 10th largest economy!

Americans are protesting in many states for a return to their work and livelihoods!

This is not the time for a blame game between opposing political camps in America but a time for national unity.

The fates have thrown coronavirus at a Brave New modern world and we weren’t ready.

Many governors’ political overreach has played fast and loose with peoples’ civil liberties; Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer comes to mind. The ancient Roman statesman and orator Cicero once opined, “In times of war, the law falls silent.”

The global war with coronavirus, the “invisible enemy” continues unabated. Permitting the right to work and the right to livelihood looms large for those who govern. This is not an option, nor an opinion, but an obligation upon government.

Can we afford to reopen America? Actually, can we afford not to?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]