We can’t keep the economy in deep-freeze forever.
The federal government can’t keep borrowing money forever to keep the economy from collapsing.
And the more we learn about COVID-19, the more clear it becomes that it’s going to remain a significant public health threat until we have a vaccine. That won’t happen even in the most optimistic scenario before our current course caused an economic collapse that would send more people into joblessness and homelessness and starvation and death than the novel coronavirus ever would.
But we can’t just arbitrarily decide to go back to “normal,” or even that “new normal” that we keep talking about but still haven’t quite defined.
Yet that’s precisely what is starting to happen.
You probably felt it over the past few days — that shift in the zeitgeist.
One day we’re all huddled in our homes, zooming into online meetings, wandering out of the house only for groceries and the elusive package of toilet paper, masks properly in place, if we even dared to do that rather than ordering up necessities online.
The next day Boeing is reopening its plant. And BMW. Charleston is opening its parks. And Mount Pleasant and Charleston County and the state. Belk is reopening for in-store shopping. Along with Northwoods and Citadel malls. And a smattering of shops on the peninsula.
Just across the border, Georgia has allowed restaurants to reopen, and Mecklenburg County, just over the North Carolina line, eased its restrictions. The president let his social-distancing recommendations expire and announced plans Wednesday to start traveling the country again.
Meantime, Gov. Henry McMaster got so antsy about getting South Carolina back to work that representatives of the restaurant industry practically had to shout him down on Wednesday when he kept asking why they can’t reopen in time for Mother’s Day, in just one week. He finally backed off and instead adopted their recommendation to allow outdoor dining to resume on Monday — a significant step in itself but one that restaurant owners described as part of a plan to help them ease in to a full reopening just two weeks later.
Even if we agreed that it made sense to reject the Trump administration’s reasonable suggestion that states keep their restrictions in place until they’ve had 14 consecutive days of declining infection rates — and we don’t — just jumping back into a full-contact economy would be unwise. Particularly when it’s so arbitrary … so emotion-based.
It feels as though a lot of people had set May 1 in their minds as the date we’d all go back to our regular lives, and they weren’t going to let inconvenient matters get in their way. Like the fact that we have not gone 14 days with improving numbers. Like the fact that South Carolina hasn’t even managed a week of declining deaths, or COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Mr. McMaster should ease off his headlong rush to reopen and wait for the numbers to catch up. And if he won’t do that, then businesses need to remember that they can push back — like restaurant owners did on Wednesday. And if that doesn’t work, they can make their own decisions.
The fact that the governor says certain businesses can reopen doesn’t mean they have to. It doesn’t even mean they should, until they’re convinced that it’s safe for their employees and their customers. After all, they’re the ones who will suffer if customers decide they failed to ensure their safety and reopened too soon.