Virus or Econ­omy Is a Fu­tile Choice

The Maui News - - Opinion - FROMA HAR­ROP

Florida, Ari­zona,

Texas and Cal­i­for­nia are among the states that thought they could re­open early. They also got sloppy with re­quire­ments for wear­ing masks and so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

Now their ICUs are stretched to break­ing with coro­n­avirus pa­tients.

And guess what. For all that putting the pub­lic’s health in jeop­ardy to help their economies, their economies are sick as well.

A new Morn­ing Con­sult poll strongly sug­gests that con­sumer con­fi­dence will not turn into spend­ing with­out virus con­fi­dence. More than half those sur­veyed said they didn’t feel safe in­side a shop­ping cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg News. The ar­ti­cle fea­tured a photo of a nearly de­serted mall in Tuc­son.

A silent ma­jor­ity is watch­ing mask­less masses frolic on crowded beaches, carouse at bars or at­tend Don­ald Trump’s ral­lies, and it’s not see­ing free­dom. It’s see­ing disease. It’s see­ing nar­cis­sism, ig­no­rance and a fee­ble po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship in­ca­pable of en­forc­ing dis­ci­pline.

In May, a man went hay­wire at a 99 Cents Only Store in San An­to­nio af­ter be­ing told he had to wear a mask. “Just be­cause every­one is do­ing it doesn’t make it le­gal!” he hollered. Ac­tu­ally, the store had the right to re­quire masks. But the pub­lic safety mes­sage would have gone smoother had Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott not re­fused to make mask wear­ing a state man­date. Ab­bott re­cently re­versed him­self on this, but early ac­tion might have spared Texas its cur­rent cri­sis.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSan­tis still re­fuses to re­quire mask wear­ing in pub­lic. DeSan­tis said he trusts peo­ple “to make good de­ci­sions.”

One of those good de­ci­sions might be to avoid Florida. Last Sun­day, Florida re­ported 10,059 new coro­n­avirus cases. New York state, once the epi­cen­ter of the pan­demic, had 536 — and it did more test­ing.

The eco­nomic con­se­quences of a virus on the ram­page are ob­vi­ous. Only two weeks ago, the top search on Tri­pAd­vi­sor was for Mi­ami Beach. One week later, New York City out­ranked al­most all Florida and Cal­i­for­nia cities on the travel re­search web­site. And that’s with mu­se­ums and Broad­way still shut.

As for trust­ing peo­ple to make good de­ci­sions, nei­ther Florida nor any other state trusts bar­go­ers to drive home blind drunk. So why let them in­fect in­no­cents with an of­ten-deadly virus?

New York City just en­tered phase 3 of its re­open­ing. That in­cludes nail sa­lons and tat­too par­lors. In­door restau­rant din­ing has been put off — a pre­cau­tion linked to the virus’ ad­vances else­where in the coun­try. New York has matched Europe in curb­ing the spread, and the state doesn’t want the huge sac­ri­fices forced on its peo­ple to be for naught.

There’s a mat­ter of op­tics as well as num­bers. Can the peo­ple trust their politi­cians to make good de­ci­sions?

Con­sider the force­ful re­sponse to par­ty­go­ers who ig­nited a new COVID clus­ter just north of New York City. Sev­eral at­ten­dees of the three house par­ties re­fused to co­op­er­ate with con­tact trac­ers. Some even lied about hav­ing been there.

There was lit­tle out­pour­ing of sym­pa­thy for the young rev­el­ers. No chants about free­dom.

“I am not go­ing to stand idly by while you risk the health of this county,” Rock­land County Ex­ec­u­tive Ed Day said. “With those sub­poe­nas, a fail­ure to com­ply brings with it a $2,000 fine. That could be re­peated ev­ery day.”

And what about lo­cal economies once the worst has passed? The Morn­ing Con­sult poll showed that half the re­spon­dents weren’t keen even then on en­ter­ing a movie the­atre, sports sta­dium or con­cert venue. Two-thirds said they’d rather pa­tron­ize restau­rants where em­ploy­ees wear a mask and ta­bles are spaced out.

And so the choice isn’t be­tween the virus or the econ­omy. Where the virus pros­pers, the econ­omy sur­ren­ders.

Froma Har­rop is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. She can be reached at fhar­ or fol­low her on Twit­ter @Fro­maHar­rop.

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