The COVID-19 comeback: Cautiously start now

We’ve trained for this comeback, making sacrifices, with our eyes on the prize — normalcy.

We are ready to live again, with caution. We are ready to open for business again, with conditions and common sense.

Until a few days ago, Gov. Tom Wolf did not seem to believe in our readiness.

But maybe it was the 1.5 million jobless claims filed in Pennsylvania.

Maybe it was the demonstration at the Capitol.

By midweek, the governor was saying some regions, including this one, would be among the first allowed to resume in-store retail and other services come May 8.

Give Wolf credit for evolving.

Now he can evolve more and start easing restrictions geographically, like yesterday.

His reopening plan lifts restrictions if a region or county averages fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in a two-week stretch. Well, the seven-county region that reads this newspaper has barely had 200 cases total during the entire onslaught of this virus.

Lots of folks — especially small business owners — are justifiably antsy. You would be antsy, too, if 20 to 40 years of building a business was being jeopardized by an unseen enemy and shutdown orders from government.

As the son of a small businessman whose family lived with the whims of each season of retail clothing sales, I admit a bias. These people put their heart, soul and fortune into their business, asking for nothing and living with consequences.

They understand risk-reward. They live with it everyday, adapting instantaneously to unforeseen circumstances of all sizes and shapes. To them, the coronavirus is another one of those weirdly shaped occurrences to overcome.

They are not hard-wired to handle economic armageddon caused by regulated idleness. They have the right to expect nimbleness from elected leaders.

Health professionals are learning more every day about this virus, based on outcomes and evolving treatments. The outcomes tell us two things: Older people, particularly those in a nursing care situation, are the most susceptible among us; and urban centers, with crowded public transportation systems, are the most vulnerable virus nesting grounds.

We can argue particulars, but those two trends — along with health guidelines federally issued in a three-step reopening plan — should rule plans to return to normalcy.

In Michigan, Detroit and the Upper Peninsula are entirely different worlds. In New York State, New York City and the rural dairy country two hours north of here are different universes. And in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia is not Williamsport.

People in Lycoming County and just about everywhere else have responded heroically to calls to stay at home, limit trips, wear masks and socially distance themselves. They have established a record of responsibility and common sense. We can wear masks and buy groceries and gardening supplies. We can wait in line to enter a store, limit capacities and keep our distance from other customers and the cashier. We can wash our hands constantly.

That track record, and the case/hospitalization/fatality numbers, should dictate a county-by-county reopening in Pennsylvania — now — with a larger menu of places allowed to get back in business.

Governors are understandably swayed by fatality numbers. That includes Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia’s mortality rate has made the state among the hardest hit. No one wants to be told they have blood on their hands.

But that’s an unfair label anyway. In this country — and county — there lives the spirit and determination to do multiple things at once to defeat this enemy. We can care about the health of everyone and take precautions while eating in a reduced-seating restaurant.

In the fog of this war, common sense and can-do resolve have been the first casualties. Small businesses, the backbone of our economy, have a mortality rate, too. Unemployment will last a lot longer than this virus for almost all of the population.

At a certain point, that stuff has to start mattering.

That point is now.

We can wear masks and buy groceries. We can wait in line at retail stores. I can give up my seat at Citizens Bank Park for a few more months while watching baseball without fans. I can put off visiting my brother in the nursing home until that’s allowed.

The swine flu a little more than a decade ago impacted 60.8 million Americans and killed 12,469 of them. The flu season of 2018-19 impacted more than 7 million Americans. They lacked the mortality weaponry of this phenomena, but nevertheless, there were no sweeping shutdowns of the economy even contemplated.

The premise that we don’t get to resume our lives until our health is guaranteed omits the truth — there is no such thing.

Put me in, coach, I’m ready to cautiously play.

My hunch is most residents — and hundreds of small business owners who employ them — are ready to do the same.

David F. Troisi is retired as editor of the Sun-Gazette.


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