Re-opening too fast only worsens pain

Gov. Mark Gordon was right not to jump on the “lock down the state” bandwagon that was closing down the economy across the country in March, and instead proceed with smaller, less draconian measures as the data for our state became available. He is also right not to jump on the bandwagon now to re-open states’ economies without sound scientific basis to do so, or even worse to reopen despite the reality that the pandemic’s spread in that state or region is getting worse, not better.

Gordon’s order in March was based on scientific realities at the time, as well as rampant fear sweeping the country – fear of what could happen and how many lives could be lost. Fear is a very motivating factor, especially in politics. But we don’t need fear now; we need Gordon to wait for good scientific evidence that Wyoming has passed the peak of this pandemic before deciding to re-open.

The reality is we all want the economy back to where it was or better than it was. No one wants and needs that more than the small communities that rely on mom-and-pop operations like hairdressers, massage studios, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters and more.

It’s commendable to want to get the economy rolling again, and we are there with those who want to be there sooner rather than later, but Gordon is smart to wait at least until May 1 to see where we are and if the worst of this pandemic is yet to arrive. Opening too soon only sets us up for a longer and potentially worse situation down the road.

Meanwhile, the double-whammy hitting the Cowboy State won’t be subsiding quickly enough for us. For more than 100 years, our economy has been chained to energy, and we ride that roller coaster up and down with the price of oil, gas, coal, uranium and now wind. The pandemic simply makes the economic situation worse as the value for our products plummet as they did last week into negative territory for the first time in history and as they continue to be depressed far below real production costs. The prices will rebound, they always do, but how long that’s going to take is anybody’s guess and there’s the world market at play even as the pandemic crushes demand worldwide.

Our reality – Gordon’s reality – is we must wait for any hope of a recovery, because even reopening our small economy across the state or on a small town or county-by-county basis is not going to keep Wyomingites safe or help us return quickly to a new normal. Instead, it’s going to allow for a longer, more painful and potentially slower recovery

We applaud Gordon for his cautious approach so far. We understand the pressure he must be under, but we also know that he cannot and should not manage this next step alone.

The legislature will have one or more special sessions to deal with the fallout of this situation. Lawmakers have several topics to address dealing with state budgets, federal stimulus funding and how to help small businesses cope. They also will address helping landlords and tenants through this crisis.

The legislature will be tasked with making recommendations to the governor’s office and setting up systems which will allow the governor to do what needs to be done. They need to act fast but with forethought for unintended consequences. For instance, one bill would halt evictions of renters for lack of payments resulting from COVID-19, but what in life today isn’t somehow impacted by that pandemic and the government’s response. The bill would direct federal relief dollars for help to landlords cover rent for up to three months for tenants who have lost their jobs, had their hours cut or been otherwise displaced. Simply halting evictions would not be enough, because landlords cannot be expected to shoulder the burden for the need to help those suddenly unable to pay rent.

But the bill should clearly include people who have been forced to stay home with their children because of school and daycare closures.

Wyoming schools, including HeadStarts and daycares, should not re-open before the end of May or longer because, as we all know, the classroom acts like petri dishes for diseases – which can easily be spread to the elderly and immuno-compromised people, all of whom suffer more in the hands of this disease, and to children and young adults who are being stricken by this malady. We simply cannot risk exposing our residents to the coronavirus’ worst case scenario.

Hopefully, the worst is behind us and we can reopen and get back to some semblance of normalcy soon, but doing so too soon only means that in the long term we will be suffering more and more hardships similar to the ones we have just gone through.

Luckily, Gordon seems to recognize that fact and is acting accordingly. He doesn’t need any more pressure to reopen than he is already feeling.

––Matt Adelman

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