Editorial: Prioritize defeating the virus first

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States in the U.S. like Georgia and Oklahoma already have plans to reopen businesses as governors are looking to get the economy back on its feet.

This means an increase in the risk of contact between individuals in the workforce. 

Last Monday, hundreds of people protested Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order at Pennsylvania’s state capitol.. 

On Wednesday, just a couple of days after the protests, Wolf announced a statewide plan where citizens of different regions will be released from the stay-at-home order at different times, with residents of north central and northwestern Pennsylvania being the first.

Protesters filled the streets surrounding the state capitol in Harrisburg, worried that small businesses will fail if the state doesn’t reopen soon.

A lot of controversy and backlash resulted from these protests.

Just the act of protesting drew criticism because people were standing right next to each other in large crowds, completely defying the word of health officials and the government’s intent for society to practice social distancing in order to overcome this pandemic. 

Protesters were seen on the streets not wearing gloves or masks, showing blatant disregard to health officials and citizens putting in so much time and effort to combat the virus. 

While health officials continue their extensive research, their role is to advise the policymakers, who are ultimately the decision makers.

Wolf’s decision to gradually reopen small businesses and going against the advice of health officials shows that the economic concerns outweighed the health concerns backed by scientific expertise. Thus, the government is prioritizing the economy over the health of its citizens. 

Nonetheless, this is a very difficult decision for elected officials, as the unemployment level across the state has significantly risen.

If the economy is opening too soon because of political pressure on the governor, and the curve reflects a resurgence of infections and deaths, then not only do we pay the price in terms of our health, but the economy will have to close down again anyway. 

Moreover, the health care workers who have been on the frontlines fighting this disease for the last several months — who have placed themselves at great risk in doing so — will be the very ones who will be called back into action and once again, be exposed to this disease if there is a resurgence in infection. 

This is a war, and the health care workers are the front line troops. What we will be asking them to do would be to once again fight the same battle. However, a reopening of the economy too soon could bring them in harm’s way once again.

Even if the governor were to take the position that the health of the citizenry will always be more important than the economic dilemma that we face, we would nevertheless be faced with a series of decisions about reopening the economy at some point. These decisions should be made with the best advice of the medical and scientific community. 

Even so, as the gradual reopening of the economy occurs, the governor must be flexible enough to quickly pivot if the situation so requires. If economic activity, even with attempts by the people to comply with the rules of social distancing, were to result in a spike of COVID-19 cases, the governor would have to exercise sufficient strength and political will to be able to reintroduce the stay-at-home order or other economic limitations designed to regain control over the spread of the infection. 

We are living through a disaster that is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and the strength of the government, notwithstanding political fallout, is what the citizenry is entitled to. We deserve to have our health protected, and consequently, any steps to reopen the economy must be subject to whatever will be required to keep the people safe.

We at Lehigh have surrendered the campus experience this semester to the coronavirus. We do not know whether the campus will be open for the upcoming fall semester.

What is clear is that the conversion to online classes has, in all likelihood, saved lives and avoided significant illness for members of the Lehigh community. 

That being said, it is true that what we at Lehigh have given up pales in comparison to the economic suffering experienced by working men and women who normally live from paycheck to paycheck.

However, in the final analysis, all the government can ever really do is fight this disease with the best medical advice it has. And people’s lives, whether on a college campus, in the workplace or in society, in general should be subject to whatever it will take to defeat COVID-19.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    Interesting situation where young (students, excluding the “party on” idiots) and old (retirees) have the same opinion, safety over dollars but as this piece notes: “… pales in comparison to the economic suffering experienced by working men and women who normally live from paycheck to paycheck.”. I wonder if a stock of surplus food, such as what existed in the 50’s and 60’s would have been of use in this emergency. If America acts as it usually does, there will be a mess to begin with (already there?) followed by a reaction that will bring creative solutions. This describes the American people and not our government.

    Georgia opened some businesses and as always there are people who will do anything to prevent boredom or regimentation. The reality is that many will choose not to open or not to patronize; owners may not want to pay for increased health protections for limited additional customers. This is the reality of “open for business”.

    I am disturbed but not surprised that many do not wear a protective mask or bandanna; far be it for them to protect another person from possible infection. A reason needs to exist for face coverings to be added, like the change from uncool hearing aids to cool bluetooth and earbuds. Be a movie star with a bandanna and shades. Stay calm, cover and separate and consider donating food and $.

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