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PSA: Re-Opening Doesn't Translate To 'Free For All'

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Just Because States Are Reopening Doesn't Mean Risks Aren't There
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On March 13, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision to overturn the state’s Safer At Home Order. Even though the Republican legislators who had filed the lawsuit challenging the order had asked for the order to remain intact for a week so that new safety measures could be communicated, the court overturned the order effective immediately. And in doing so, it turned Wisconsin into a “hot coronavirus mess.”

With no safety measures in place, the state fell into chaos. Folks flocked to area bars, with little or no regard to social distancing. Counties and municipalities scrambled to enact their own safety measures keeping the Safer At Home guidelines – then many of them were quickly abandoned out of fear of lawsuits.

In the meantime, the virus is still running rampant.

On March 13 – after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the governor’s stay-at-home order, based on a technicality no less – coronavirus spread was no less risky than it had been on March 12. Yet for some reason, some folks interpreted the court’s decision as saying, “Good news! You’re safe from COVID-19 now.” Folks flocked to bars ignoring social distancing and shunning face masks, because of course a face masks gets in the way of enjoying that lukewarm Bud Light they’ve just been dying to have.

Folks from neighboring Illinois – which is still under a stay-at-home order, mind you – decided that they could bring their germs to Wisconsin because, well, maybe they thought there was some kind of Lysol shield at the border that kills the virus. (Newsflash: There isn’t.)

Whereas a week ago, folks were wearing face masks in grocery stores, now they are a rarity. Because again, I suppose the court’s decision waved a magic wand over public places, declaring them to be safe from coronavirus. Go forth and shop, friends. Who needs those pesky face masks fogging up your glasses anyway?

Of course, there was no magic wand. The risks of coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, are just as prevalent as they were before judicial activism overturned it. The risks are still there for all those states and counties and localities re-opening as well.

To put it simply: the novel coronavirus does not care about your “rules.” It only responds to how you behave.

For months, we’ve been talking about and looking forward to “the end.” But there will be no peace treaty with COVID-19 marking the end of the war (not until there’s a vaccine anyway). There won’t be a light switch that turns off the risks and dangers. Rather it will be a slow, gradual – and often confusing – shifting in our daily lives. And what we’ll all need to remember is that reopening doesn’t mean a “free for all.”

To those who say, “well, if you don’t want to get sick, just stay home then,” it doesn’t work that way. That would be like telling someone who doesn’t want to get killed by a drunk driver to just not drive anywhere. Sounds ridiculous, right? Because it is.

Over the past few months, we’ve heard and seen the refrain “we’re all in this together.” But in recent days and weeks, I’ve been shocked at how quickly people have abandoned this sentiment. People refusing to wear masks. People crowding into bars. People generally willing to risk the safety of others because they, personally, aren’t at as high a risk.

Doing things like packing bars, not wearing masks, and invading people’s six-feet space is selfish. Plain and simple. Saying things like “well, we’re all gonna die eventually” makes you sounds like a heartless asshole. And pretending that we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic — or that it isn’t as serious as public health and medical experts are telling us, as serious as those on the front lines are seeing with their own eyes — doesn’t make it any less true.

Please, folks, don’t be complacent or foolish. Just because cases are dropping or have stayed low in your area doesn’t mean it couldn’t become the next hot spot. The reason cases might not have exploded in your area – or better yet, are declining – is because social distancing works.

We’ve come too far now to erase all these efforts. And don’t just take my word for it. Take it from the medical and public health experts.

Dr. Anthony Fauci – one of the preeminent experts on infectious diseases and our guiding light of reason and science over the past several months — has been explicitly clear about the risks of complacency. “Even if we get better control over the next several months, it’s likely there will be the virus somewhere on this planet that will eventually get back to us,” he said in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“What I’ve expressed then and again is my concern that if some areas, cities, states, what have you, jump over prematurely over those checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently,” he also testified. “My concern is that we’ll start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks.”

The fallout from chaotic and poorly designed re-openings (much less outright disregard, like in Wisconsin) won’t be readily apparent either, which could further exacerbate complacency. As the New York Times pointed out, without widespread testing, which we don’t yet have, it is hard to know where any one state or the country actually stands in the fight against Covid-19. Since it takes 2-3 weeks from exposure and infection to become ill enough to require medical attention, a sense of calm could cause Americans to become even more lax with safety precautions.

“We’re not reopening based on science,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the C.D.C. in the Obama administration, has warned. “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”

Yes, we will eventually need to open up and ease restrictions, but in a controlled, gradual and informed way that keeps people safe. I’ve been saddened and disappointed to see people behaving recklessly and putting others at risks with their misinformation, conspiracy theories, and selfish actions. This isn’t an either-or proposition; there is a way to both reopen economies and protect public health and safety.

Just because you aren’t required to wear a face mask doesn’t mean it isn’t a good public health practice. Since a face covering protects other people, and not necessarily the wearer, it is the ultimate sign of caring. It says, I care enough about you to be mildly inconvenienced with this mask. And save me the “my body my choice” arguments. People are required to wear shirts and shoes in public places, and no one whines about that.

According to the New York Times, “Evidence is mounting that masks — if worn in public places, by everyone — are far more effective at stopping transmission than was previously realized.”

So wear your face mask. Keep six feet distance. Avoid in-person gatherings with people who you haven’t been sheltering in place with. Limit travel, and stay home as much as you can.

In other words: Be smart and don’t be an asshole.

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