As our governor begins to open Indiana’s economy back up, I would urge him, and all Hoosiers, to listen to the case for caution. The governor has repeatedly indicated that he is being informed by data and “the facts on the ground” in rendering his decisions dealing with what I believe history will judge as the worse pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu. But now, we are faced with the most important decision to date in our collective effort to defeat COVID-19: when is it truly safe to reopen the state to commerce and reduced social distancing?
I was hopeful that Governor Holcomb would act far more responsibly than governors in other states who have allowed the reopening of stores, restaurants, bars and even beaches without adequate consideration to the paramount safety of citizens and workers. However, last week’s reveal of his plan to reopen left me with more worry than relief. And now, as COVID-19 death projections skyrocket by 543 percent, the state needs to seriously rethink this response before it’s too late.
I agree with the governor that reopening the economy will not be like turning on a light switch — it must be a slow process guided by data, science, medical expertise and facts. As we delve into this reopening plan, I urge another consideration: the lessons of history. It is worth noting the 1918 pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of Americans in the first wave, but turned far more deadly when a premature return to business as usual claimed even more lives. Political leaders then, as they are now, felt intense pressure from business leaders and their “base” to resume life as normal too soon. Opinions of medical experts cautioning against a premature reopening were ignored. The consequences were deadly. We are at risk of making that same mistake.
Governor Holcomb has stated his criteria for reopening includes increased ability to test, contact tracing and confidence in our medical capacity to deal with further cases. On the surface all of these seem to be valid factors, but what happened to waiting for continued decreases in positive test results? Multiple times in the past week, the state reported the highest number of positive test results to-date. It is dangerous to start reopening Indiana before full testing abilities, just starting this week, are able to show us for the first time how widespread this virus really is. It is also dangerous to reopen before contact tracers are fully trained and able to contact those who could be exposed and infected.
Understandably, folks wish to return to life as usual, whether in the workplace or socially with friends and family. I want Indiana to get back on its feet as well. Many Hoosiers need to be able to work to make ends meet and provide for their families. But the best way to restore our economy and society is to be able to confidently say the deadliest virus of our lifetime is under control. Health experts are still telling us that social distancing, mask wearing and staying in place is the best way to do that. Since the governor has decided to start opening the state up, it should be assumed that all Hoosiers must abide by social distancing guidelines and be required to wear masks. Just requiring these two activities would make a world of difference. Yet, mask wearing is only recommended, not required, and there has been paltry enforcement of social distancing requirements required in the governor’s own executive order. This puts real lives at risk.
Repeating the mistakes of a century ago by yielding to pressure for “life as usual” ignores not only those expert voices, but the faint cries of those Americans in the past who wisely said it was too soon. If we must open up the state now, then it is our responsibility as state lawmakers to make sure we do it in the safest manner possible. Requiring folks to wear masks when outside of their homes means vulnerable Hoosiers won’t have to worry about others carrying the virus around the state. Providing real enforcement of companies’ mandate to provide PPE and maintain proper distancing means more Hoosiers can get to work while still feeling safe.
It’s not unreasonable for Hoosiers to want to work while still wanting assurance that they can do so safely. As the government opens Indiana, the state’s leaders must ensure the public’s safety. I’m just not convinced the current plan actually does that. At a time when food processing plants and manufacturers report hundreds of infected workers due to a lack of state enforcement of business safety requirements, we have shown this state is not adequately prepared to protect our workers with a fully opened economy. Governor Holcomb, I urge you to use caution, because at the end of the day, Hoosiers can’t work if they are sick and dying from a pandemic. Just because there are ICU beds available, doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.