Reopen When Safe Not When Investors Want

Posted on April 14, 2020 · 6 mins read


Later today, the Pennsylvania legislature is expected to consider Senate Bill 613 and vote. SB 613 was originally a proposed bill that simply tweaked some rules on what government employees were allowed access to private tax data for various legal purposes. However, a new amendment was inserted into the bill that also would make it overrule Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home COVID-19 orders if passed.

Republicans have been obsessed with sending people back to work in the middle of a global pandemic, even going as far as to file lawsuits. There is of course a kernel of truth in what they say. Yes, people are struggling to pay the bills. Yes, some businesses are facing difficulty because they’re not getting customers. But the answer isn’t to pretend the global pandemic doesn’t exist or isn’t serious; that will result in millions of deaths nationwide and much worse damage to the economy than simply putting it on pause for a short time.

The whole truth is that the pandemic is growing, and potentially near its peak – the most risky time to be going out! Sending everyone back to “business as usual” now would completely undo all of the progress so far with the stay-at-home efforts the past few weeks. Now’s not the time to pull back on those rules; to do so without preparation could result in millions of deaths.

Instead, those that are struggling need whatever financial assistance is necessary to get through this period. That needs to be first priority – get people the resources they need to maintain stay-at-home and social distancing to save as many lives as possible.

One thing that could help businesses reopen faster, without the need for extended stay-at-home efforts, is much better testing and quarantine capability. Compare US preparations with other countries, like South Korea. South Korea took a different track; rather than authoritarian measures that order folks to stay home, enforced by police, South Korea had no general restrictions. Of course, you were still encouraged to stay home as much as possible, but businesses were still generally open. Instead, they set up testing locations in busy locations – bus depots, train stations, etc. – and literally tested every single person that came through. Anyone showing signs of fever was immediately taken to the side for further testing and quarantine if necessary. This action allowed infected people to be identified and quarantined, so they could not further spread the virus, while allowing life to continue more or less normally for the rest of the population. Had the Trump administration and local and state officials prepared for this, the US could have done similarly. Instead, the US has had an abysmal response to the pandemic and has lacked the medical supplies and preparation of other countries. As such the only reasonable thing that could be done here to save lives was to try to keep people at home until it passed. It didn’t need to be this way, but this was the path chosen by Trump and other officials and now we need to stick with it. As was reported:

Fauci said Sunday that the Trump administration “could have saved lives” had firm social distancing guidelines been enforced earlier, but there was “pushback about shutting things down.”

So the real solutions state legislators should be looking at include the following:

  • Getting immediate, emergency relief to workers and small businesses. Expanded unemployment, small business loans. We might consider a statewide universal basic income until the crisis passes, if the federal government continues to drag its feet.
  • Extra assistance to essential industries like agriculture that are struggling. Farmers have been struggling under COVID due to drops in sales, and food is being left to rot because of the lack of income to pay workers. Action needs to be taken or food shortages could follow.
  • Consider rent/mortgage forgiveness, not just a moratorium.
  • Consider raising the minimum wage to an actual living wage. Right now “essential workers” in grocery stories and elsewhere make less than people on unemployment. They deserve a living wage, and hazard pay.
  • Ensure everyone has healthcare under a single payer system. Legislators could be advancing the The Pennsylvania Healthcare Plan act.
  • Investing heavily in protective equipment for medical professionals.
  • Investing in the proper tools to be able to test the population quickly and accurately.
  • DO NOT tell the general public to go back to work until medical professionals tell us we’re prepared for that. Millions of lives are at stake here.

When the rates of infected people appear to be plateaued and dropping off, then we will be in a good place to consider going out in public again, particularly if we have public testing in place similar to South Korea.

By the way, the sneaky way this subject was added last minute to SB 613 happens pretty commonly in Harrisburg as well as DC. This method of amending bills is used to keep things more secret, as well as allow misleading discussion (such as shaming someone into voting for the bill because of one aspect, while another aspect may be bad). Should I become state representative, I would have zero tolerance for these types of legislative tricks and would call them out whenever I saw them.

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