Putting worker safety and public health first means picking and choosing carefully which are the most urgent for a functioning society.
By Neil deMause
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (7/3/20)
In the second half of June, the story of the United States’ coronavirus pandemic began to shift dramatically, as a massive surge in new infections took hold, particularly across states in the South and West that had previously been spared the worst of the outbreak. Media reports abruptly switched gears from declaring that reopening was proceeding with few ill effects (Reuters, 5/17/20; Tampa Bay Times, 5/28/20) to expressing alarm that health officials’ warnings against lifting social distancing restrictions too soon had been proven right—a cognitive dissonance perhaps most dramatically depicted in Oregon Public Broadcasting’s headline, “Oregon’s COVID-19 Spike Surprises, Despite Predictions of Rising Caseloads” (6/10/20).
The media largely followed the lead of elected officials, who in many cases let concern over profit-and-loss statements take precedence over whether the data indicated it was safe to resume business as usual.
Increasingly, the big story has been the litany of state moves to halt or roll back reopenings: A typical roundup in the New York Times (6/26/20) included closing bars in Texas and Florida, a full stay-at-home order in California’s Imperial County, and putting beaches off-limits in Miami-Dade County for the July 4th weekend.
“This is a very dangerous time,” declared Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, where new cases began rising on June 15, just over a month after the state allowed stores and businesses to reopen. “I think what is happening in Texas and Florida and several other states should be a warning to everyone.”
How best to reopen
But a warning of what? While the question of how quickly to reopen will affect potentially millions of lives, equally important is asking what science can tell us about how to reopen. Health experts point to many lessons we can learn from the pandemic experience, both in the US and elsewhere, that can help inform which activities are safest (and most necessary) to resume—a discussion that is more useful than the media’s inclination toward simple debates about whether reopening is good or bad (LA Times, 5/14/20; New York Times, 5/20/20).
Among the most important conclusions…