By Recker McDowell —
Being at the tip of the spear, taking the first step or the giant leap forward is not for the faint of heart.
That is true when it comes to starting a business, finding a new job or taking a purpose-driven path in life.
The stakes are even higher when it comes to re-opening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lives are at stake – but so are careers, jobs and livelihoods as well as civil liberties and privacy.
That is the challenge for elected officials facing warnings from public health experts and much of the media not to open the economy to early for fears of more cases and deaths.
Those same elected officials also face prodding from business owners, worried workers and industries including tourism and restaurants that if the economy is closed too long there will be more jobs losses. Temporary business closures will become permanent.
The pandemic and its economic fallouts have already cost the U.S. economy 30 million jobs.
Many businesses cannot weather long-term closures.
At the direst level, elected officials and our political decisionmakers are presented with the possibility of new outbreaks and deaths (i.e. the plague) or lost jobs and closed businesses akin to the Great Depression.
But there is another path, a reasoned path that balances public health with the economy and jobs. A reopening of the economy and businesses does not have been done in haste or at the expense of public health.
We are seeing governors and mayors across the country trying to navigate that path despite the choruses of fear and worry. Some are being bolder than others. Some are being careful out of concern for public health. COVID-19 has killed 63,515 people in the U.S. and cases are nearing 1.1 million. (New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts account for 44.5 percent of all U.S. cases and 46 percent of all U.S. deaths from COVID-19.)
Decisionmakers (as well as business owners) need to realize there are political, media and other forces who will resist any reopening of the economy in the short-term. Those motivations can be rooted in concern for public health, a distaste for President Donald Trump and outright fear.
The key for opening the economy — whether it is a state, city or business — is to do it in a way that is reasonable and will allow others to follow suit.
That is what the tip of the spear can do — proof of concept.
If reopening in Georgia, Texas and other states goes well then that will give other communities the encouragement and backup they need to move forward with their phased plans.
They can also show best practices that might work in various communities. We desperately need visibility and confidence in terms of our health, our jobs as well as privacy and civil liberties.
But if COVID-19 cases spike (at all) in a state or region that opens, there will be calls from the media and others to close everything down again. We have seen that in California with some beaches being opened and then closed after cooped up residents headed to the shore.
You can imagine the opinion columns, press conference questions and social media posts.
No political animal wants to be the mayor from “Jaws”.
This is an unprecedented crisis for public health. The only contemporary historical comparison is the Spanish Flu.
This is unprecedented threat to jobs and our economy. We are talking Great Depression-like job losses and potential business closures. The $2 trillion CARES Act and its help for businesses and the newly unemployed gave us some time. But the economy needs to reopen before the clock runs out on businesses and all those job losses are more permanent.
That will take some fortitude, wisdom and navigating the path between lives and livelihoods.