Opinion: For the most part, there are two camps in the opening debate running across the United States. One camp says, “Open.” The other camp, maybe a little too obvious, says, “Don’t Open.” The arguments each way can go on for hours. Some say it’s too soon; others say it should have been done sooner or we should never have closed, and still, others say open now. Let’s face it: there is no consistency, nobody knows the long term outcome one way or the other, and without businesses in operation, we will continue to spiral financially out of control.
The Consistency Factor –Since the start of the pandemic, each Governor, mayor, county, or parish judge, and in some cases small-town groups have been in charge of deciding what gets shut down and what does not. In some states, churches seemed to be the first target to shut down, but craft stores were left open. In other states, sections of stores were closed off or hours were cut while in some states the entire store was wide open. Many argued that there were more people at the local mega-sized shopping center than there would have been at the small-town church. Orders ranged from no closure of churches, to complete closure with a ticket if anyone even set foot on church property. This lack of consistency, and in some cases, extreme measures unseen in other parts of the country, caused many Americans to feel their rights were being trampled. Let’s face it, trample our rights, and we Americans get upset. The argument is sound – if Mississippi closes all churches, even parking lot meetings in cars, but Texas leaves all churches open, how is that fair? Is COVID-19 transmission less in Texas than in Mississippi? Even in the local area of Texarkana, one side of the border had a curfew, while the other side had a shelter in place. Regardless of which measure you supported, the lack of consistency could be seen across the street.
Without consistency, we cannot exalt the extreme hashtag of #AllInThisTogether because to be blunt…we are not, or at least we are not equally in this together. Imagine if, during WWII, there had been no consistency in air raid responses in the United States. What if one town decided when an air raid sounded, they would turn off their lights, but another city decided they would not? Imagine if those towns were as close as Texarkana, Texas, and Arkansas. What would have happened in Texarkana had an air raid been real, enemy planes flew over to bomb, and Texarkana, Texas had all lights on while Arkansas was dark? We would have all suffered because of the lack of consistency. The lack of consistency has undoubtedly hurt us in a period that we really needed to be “All In This Together.”
The Nobody Knows Factor –The last major pandemic to have such a sweeping impact on the United States ended in December of 1920. The Spanish Flu spread and dominated the world from roughly January of 1918 through 1919. It was still be tracked in places as late as the December 1920 date, which causes debate still as to how long it lasted. Regardless of how long it lasted, those people that dealt with that pandemic from a government point-of-view are long gone. Our current generation has no idea what the long-term outcome is going to be for COVID-19. We could have a vaccine and pull out in a month, or it could be years of COVID-19 sparking up in areas around the world. We do not know if opening today makes a difference or if opening up six months from now would make a difference. We do not know if closing made much of a difference at this point, although numbers do seem to be rising since the opening phases started. Overall though, we will not know the outcome of opening up right now until years from now. We will study history and science behind this pandemic, and at some point, likely many years from now, there will be a verdict on the actions we take today. That future review will indicate that we either made the right choices or the wrong choices. Hopefully, that information will be used should there be a future pandemic. Whatever the outcome is, we will have 20/20 hindsight vision, and right now, we have no idea what that 20/20 vision is going to show us.
The Without Business Factor– Business makes the world go around. It always has, and it likely will always make our societies function and thrive. Without business, no money is made. Without money, at least for our society now, nobody can pay for anything from food to shelter or utilities. You don’t work, and you don’t pay the electric. The electric company doesn’t get paid, and they cannot pay workers or keep plants running. Those people at the plants do not get paid, and they cannot pay their bills. So goes the cycle. Also, in that vicious little cycle is a thing called taxes. If you don’t work, you don’t pay taxes. You do not pay taxes, and then the government does not have money. While we may all marvel at the idea of not paying taxes, we must also accept the consequences of not paying taxes. Without taxes, you have no educational money, Medicaid, Medicare, Police, Firemen, road repairs, new roads, military, state parks, federal parks, rules or regulations on utilities or limits on what they can charge, no city government, county government, state government, or U.S. government. While some of that list may not worry many of us, the fact is while you’re not working, and the government has no income, it ultimately will not be able to pay your unemployment benefits. So without business, failure sets in on a governmental level that will eventually affect all of us.
It only takes a few minutes to scan the news, and you will find incidents of the government already suffering from a lack of tax revenue. Naturally, elected officials made the hard and difficult decisions in many states. They did not cut their salaries or benefits they felt are essential…no. The first cuts announced were education – grants, loans, funding for schools, etc. – the next area was Medicaid – funding for healthcare for seniors, disabled people, poor, etc. Please make no mistake, without business functioning, society as we know it will continue to break down. Grocery prices will continue to soar, unemployment will continue to rise, and ultimately the government will continue to make cuts that will eventually affect you and me. The business factor simply means we have to have the business open to move forward.
So Should We Open? Yes, we should open. Perhaps we should never have closed in the first place. Maybe we should have encouraged those at risk to shelter-in-place, maybe we should have closed the schools as they have been able to function somewhat online, but we should not have closed when it comes to business. We closed churches and non-essential companies based on individual opinions about what is and is not essential. The most disturbing aspect of the shutdown is we had government fines placed on people who tried to work! Further, we even had governments put people in jail for working while those same governments were releasing criminals to avoid COVID-19 in prisons. We closed down beauty salons, barbershops, dental operations, elective surgery centers, eye doctors, etc. all while we left operations like Home Depot, Walmart, and grocery stores to decide and operate for themselves. To anyone looking at these choices, it would appear that COVID-19 is more capable of moving through a beauty salon with sanitation procedures in place and generally a handful of people than it can run through Walmart with 50 or more employees on-site and upward of 150 customers or more during any given hour!
So, yes, resoundingly, we should open. Maybe we need to require screening at the doors. Perhaps we should screen staff coming in, people coming in, and limit our numbers in the stores. Maybe we need some safeguards in place. But, if we put these safeguards into play, then they should be the same for Walmart as they are for the small business owner on the corner. They should be consistent, universal, and allow any business that wishes to operate to respect the requirements and move forward, conduct business, pay taxes, and support our local economies. The key is not when to open or how to open – the key is to open smart, prepared, and in compliance with a universal plan that is safe for everyone while it continues to allow our society to function.