There are many frightening aspects to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the most frightening is how much we still don’t know.
We don’t know why some cities and areas of the country are seeing higher mortality rates than others. We don’t know what percentage of the population is currently infected, and what percentage may have immunity. We don’t know when we will have an adequate supply of N95 masks and tests.
Amid this uncertainty, one thing is clear: There is something more fatal than the virus, and that is political partisanship. We’re not just talking about the way President Donald Trump has often defaulted to partisan swipes and blaming other parties and administrations for the crisis, though that is damaging enough. We’re talking about the battles that are firming up along political lines about when it will be safe to reopen the economy — and whether “safe” should even be a criteria.
In Pennsylvania, the state legislature last week passed a measure that would reopen the economy for those businesses that adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. SB 613 would effectively overrule Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of nonessential businesses that is set to expire April 30. Wolf says he will veto the bill.
Seeing our elected officials playing out the same tired old partisan dramas is disheartening and depressing. They should be doing what the rest of the country is doing from community to community, neighborhood to neighborhood: putting aside differences and figuring out how to offer support and solve problems together.
Of course, the economy is important. People are suffering from its sudden collapse. (That’s in part because of the shaky ground on which it was built, with few safety nets in place.) Businesses need to get back on their feet. But a rational and transparent framework and detailed plan driven by what we do know must be in place before that can happen.
That would require both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg to commit themselves to putting a plan together that makes sense for all — and for sharing that plan and the thinking underlying it with the rest of the public. That should be the minimum criteria for the reopening of the economy. We have not only seen little evidence of that, but we are still at the point that the public’s health depends on crude homemade masks because no one quite knows where the next big supply of medical-grade masks is coming from.
We are also lacking the capacity for the widespread testing that most experts agree is critical to a return to “normal.”
The idea that certain businesses can open, even at a staggered pace, without acknowledging that a plan for schools and day care must also be resolved so parents can actually return to work is also worrisome.