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Reopening the economy cannot be done overnight


“Slow and steady wins the race.”

There is nothing sexy about fighting pandemics. Unlike an action movie or television drama, there is no miracle cure or finger snap that will make everything “normal” once again.

Medical professionals and scientists are working around the clock, to develop treatments and work on vaccines to control COVID-19. Meanwhile, public health officials and governments are doing what they can to reduce the number of people who are getting sick, and dying from the disease.

In announcing the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell compared the current crises with the nation being at war.

For the past month, Wisconsinites have lived under restrictions imposed by the “Safer at Home” order issued by Gov. Tony Evers, under the advice of state public health officials.

The intent of the order is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and in the process, reduce the number of deaths in the state. By the numbers, the strategy is working, not only in Wisconsin, but everywhere else where similar orders have been imposed.

As with any war, victory in the COVID-19 pandemic does not come without cost. Businesses have been shuttered, people have been laid off or furloughed, the stock market is bouncing around like a red rubber ball. The hurt is real and there will likely be causalities, as some businesses will not be able to recover from the closures and restrictions.

Evers last week announced, again, at the advice of public health officials, that he would extend the social distancing order through the end of May. At the same time, he ordered schools would not restart in traditional brick and mortar classrooms before the end of the school year.

The announcement drew immediate vocal criticism from numerous groups, ranging from politicians seeking to score political points with their bases, to business owners worried how they will survive. The most vocal criticism is from a nationally orchestrated series of “astroturf” campaigns – which are as close to grassroots as the fake grass in football stadiums is to your front lawn.

Some of the complaints have merit, such as weighing public health vs. economic harm, and what level of illness are we willing to accept to keep the economy running. Others are based on libertarian fantasies, where personal freedoms are sacrosanct and outweigh any sort of societal obligations.

This past Monday, Evers answered the most legitimate of the complaints, by unveiling a phased approach to reopen the state’s economy, based on quantifiable infection targets being met. The governor’s plan is a slow and steady one, seeking to move forward conservatively, rather than risk causing a spike in infection.

The plan’s major shortfall, is that it treats the state as a whole, rather than looking at the very significant regional differences on COVID-19’s spread in the state. Regional public health officials need to have greater authority to finetune the process and address the rural realities of their situations, as opposed to treating the entire state as if it was the City of Milwaukee, or a belt line suburb.

COVID-19 will have longterm impacts on the economy and people in Wisconsin, and throughout the country. It has changed how people interact and has realigned priorities. How much of these will continue after the crisis has ended, is anyone’s guess.

Everyone wants a return to normal. In the end, the quickest way to get there, is the slow and steady route.

Members of the Courier Sentinel editorial board include publisher Carol O’Leary, general manager Kris O’Leary and Star News editor Brian Wilson.