It’s surreal. Our world is reeling. Entire economies are shut down. The sheer numbers are staggering: More than 3 million people infected. Nearly 217,000 dead.
How do we get through this coronavirus pandemic?
Caution is the watchword and face masks are the order of the day as some businesses begin to reopen after months of sheltering in place. Across the country, states are taking tentative steps to get back to something resembling normal while maintaining caution at every point. It’s far from clear how much will be achieved within the next few weeks or months.
The total cases in the United States this week climbed above one million and the death toll reached at least 59,000, a grim milestone that surpassed the 58,220 deaths in the Vietnam War. Georgia’s virus cases rose toward 25,000 with more than 1,000 deaths. Cobb County reported more than 1,500 cases, fourth highest in the state.
The devastating impact on the economy continues to worsen with millions of people across the country losing their jobs and paychecks. Trying to revive some pieces of Georgia’s economy, Gov. Brian Kemp eased restrictions on restaurants, theaters, nail salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors, drawing sharp criticism from the Atlanta mayor, some other elected officials, Democrats and President Trump. The governor was faulted for going ahead with a reopening plan when there were questions about whether Georgia complied with Trump administration guidelines calling for two weeks of declines in new cases, widespread testing and the capacity to trace the contacts of infected people. Kemp’s controversial reopening plan has not won support from most of his constituents. A survey by the University of Georgia showed 62% disapproved of the decision to allow reopening of businesses.
Kemp insists that before implementing his plan there was increased testing capacity and additional hospital beds. While the state did not meet the full criteria for reopening business, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, said Georgia was “approaching a plateauing” of virus cases. But how Kemp’s management of the virus crisis turns out will certainly impact his future politically. Should he have waited longer before starting to reopen businesses? That’s the question being debated across the state. Regardless of the criticism, the governor followed his own insights and instincts, taking a high stakes risk, convinced he was doing the right thing. Time will tell if he made the right decision.
To that point, state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, an anesthetist and member of Kemp’s coronavirus task force, offered this perspective. He said although he would have preferred to wait for more data on the virus before reopening, there are multiple factors to weigh. “We’ve never been here before,” he told the Rome News-Tribune. “My timeline was different from others’ timeline but who knows who’s right or wrong….I think the governor’s making the best decisions he can. I do think he’s got the flexibility to make changes needed.”
Kemp’s decision came under heavy fire from President Trump who told the governor “I totally disagree.” But he said the decision was up to Kemp, who voiced confidence that business owners opting to reopen would adhere to his guidelines. “I know this is a different world,” he said. “But we have to continue living in it for a few more weeks, or possibly just a few more months. There are a lot of people financially hurting, and we’ve got to do our best to help them out.”
Almost daily President Trump talks about reopening the country but he has left to each state’s governor the decision on when and to what extent to do so. He says the third quarter will be a transition from the closed-down economy and predicts “the fourth quarter is going to be really strong, and I think next year is going to be a tremendous year.” If fervent hopes and wishes count, this will come to pass.
To help make that possible, the federal government has thus far pumped about $9 trillion into the economy including money for businesses, families and individuals, hospitals and other organizations. The president has invoked the Defense Production Act, a wartime measure, ordering large companies to produce face masks, ventilators and other medical equipment as well as meat processors to reopen — all deemed essential to this war against the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu raged across the globe in 1918, infecting 500 million people and taking as many as 100 million lives.
A microcosm of the reopening issue is seen in two of Cobb’s leading citizens. Mayor Steve Tumlin of Marietta welcomed the chance to get a haircut, do a workout and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a local restaurant. But former Gov. Roy Barnes said he is not following Tumlin’s routine. “I’m in that group — and so is Thunder — that’s at risk, and I’m not opening back up until we have a better idea of what to do,” Barnes said, adding that it would likely be a month to six weeks before he made the decision.
How do we get through this? It will be by dint of every citizen using common sense and following the well-known guidelines – using caution and facemasks. Surely, this plague will pass, and a new day will arrive. Let’s hold to that hope, believing that America will survive. America will triumph.