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Bowman: Arguments for quickly reopening Washington are deeply flawed

Washington has only recently begun to gradually reopen. (Photo courtesy of Eric Tra Photography)

There’s a good deal of anxiety around when Washington will be able to fully reopen. Businesses are struggling, hundreds of thousands of the state’s residents are out of work, and tensions are running high. That’s all combined for a push from some to flout the advice of health experts and rush through the process of relaxing social distancing restrictions.

Bowman: Now is not the time for Washington to lose its patience

There are a few key arguments that are being made in the name of that goal worth addressing.

Washington flattened its curve! It’s safe to reopen immediately

“Flatten the curve” was the early rallying cry of states looking to quell the spread of the virus early on. States like Washington successfully accomplished that, but unfortunately, the second, equally as important step in that process wasn’t quite as catchy or widespread in its messaging.

Flattening the curve is about mitigation. Now, we need suppression.

That means we next need to approach the declining phase in daily cases, something Washington — and the rest of the U.S. — have yet to achieve. In fact, the state saw its highest single day totals for new cases since early April on back-to-back days this week, while the rolling seven-day moving average has climbed accordingly.

Part of that is likely a product of increased testing capacity, but the fact remains: The virus isn’t on it’s way out the door yet, and rallies where hundreds of protesters have been seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder together have done little to decrease its spread.

The virus isn’t gone yet, but businesses say they can safely reopen anyway

Some businesses have expressed disbelief that they haven’t been allowed to reopen as quickly as others, claiming that they can simply enact additional precautions and be ready to keep their customers safe.

That includes gyms, one of which recently claimed that it can operate “even safer than our grocery stores,” by telling clients to stay six feet apart, giving them their own equipment for workouts, and disinfecting “multiple times a day.”

Meanwhile, some restaurants have pushed back against restrictions that would require them to operate at 50% capacity when dine-in service is allowed to return.

The first thing to consider: The scientific consensus is that this virus spreads more prominently through droplets in the air in confined, indoor spaces, like say, a gym, or a restaurant where, at full capacity, you’re sitting within a couple feet of your fellow diners for hours at a time.

And secondly: While phasing in a select amount of businesses at a time is partly about whose workplaces are safest in the near-term, it’s also about ensuring that the entire state isn’t leaving their homes at once.

If we have restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, barbershops, nail salons, car washes, and more all throwing their doors open at once, that also begets a flood of customers who are now interacting with each other in a variety of places in relatively close quarters.

Even if it’s not safe to reopen, businesses need to be able to return to save jobs

There’s no denying the economic hardship imposed by this virus. Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians are out of work right now, along with millions of others across the U.S.

One of the prevailing arguments is that we start reopening businesses to save the economy and mitigate these growing job losses. The thing is, any short-term gains we get from sending people back to work right away will evaporate when the virus inevitably responds in kind.

We need only look as far as the 1918 influenza outbreak for a cautionary tale, when multiple additional waves of cases swept through the population and killed millions. Today, health officials in Washington estimate a potential coronavirus rebound could be “two to three times as bad as our initial outbreak if things get out of control.”

Virus rebound could be ‘two to three times as bad’ if WA reopens too early

It’s obviously not tenable to keep the country shut down forever. It’s even less tenable, though, to send people back to work while we still lack the infrastructure to properly test and trace new cases. Businesses — and subsequently jobs — will suffer the longer this outbreak continues. Reopening prematurely will lengthen that timeline considerably, and ultimately have us suffering for more time, not less.

As Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen put it, “just because we’re not at the crisis situation that we were at a month ago, it doesn’t mean that the virus has essentially magically disappeared.”

In the U.S., we’ve at least partially mitigated the job crisis by sending out an additional $600 in unemployment money per week to people who qualify, although the system itself has been flooded by new claims. Countries like Canada have opted for regularly scheduled stimulus checks of $2,000 over a four month period.

Suffice it to say, the more comfortable we can keep our unemployed population while we ensure it’s safe to reopen, the more we can afford to be cautious, and hopefully avoid a second wave.

You want the state to stay closed so you can fear-monger for clicks!

No one wants us to be in a place where reopening isn’t safe. Too often, honest, harsh appraisals of the state of affairs related to this virus have been equated with fear-mongering, while dangerously unrealistic, rosy outlooks have been lauded as the “real truth.”

Trust us, we get it; people are suffering, and media outlets have been no exception. None of us enjoy reporting on — or experiencing — the devastating effect this virus has had on our nation’s health, jobs, and mental well-being.

When the U.S. is actually ready to fully reopen — and not just when people want it to be ready — you can bet that we’ll be just as excited as anyone to see this crisis finally come to an end.

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