Open Up the Massachusetts Economy in Towns and Counties with Low Virus Counts

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Governor Charlie Baker should act now to end the lockdown in many Massachusetts counties and towns — despite the public health officials and experts who predict a flood of deaths should businesses be allowed to reopen. Some of these are the same experts whose previous models were wildly inaccurate, predicting more than 2 million deaths from coronavirus in the United States and shortages of hospital beds and ventilators throughout the nation.  

The number of confirmed cases of Covid19 in Massachusetts reached 38,077 as of Sunday, April 19. That’s a lot of people. But this figure represents a little more than one-half of 1 percent of the population of the Commonwealth.

Deaths from the virus in Massachusetts stand at 1,706. That’s a lot of people. But it’s also .025 percent of the population of the state. And as is well known by now, the great majority of these deaths come from those with pre-existing health conditions. As painful and tragic as each of these deaths is, the lost lives must be weighed against the disruption and devastation to the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens in Massachusetts.

We’re not talking about saving lives versus saving money. To take away people’s livelihood is, in many cases, to shorten their lives.

In February, the unemployment rate in the Commonwealth was 2.8 percent. Initial unemployment claims from mid-March to mid-April have skyrocketed to 572,562.  This means that more than 15 percent of the work force in Massachusetts is unemployed. That’s a shocking figure – and likely to get worse in the next weeks. It may well reach 20 percent of the work force. There are fifteen times more people unemployed in the Commonwealth because of government shutdown than people known to have been infected by the virus. This a tragedy.

The lockdown in Massachusetts cities and towns that have been barely touched by the coronavirus is destroying the businesses and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. To the business owners and their employees, every business is essential. The financial wellbeing of these citizens is every bit as important as those few who may be infected by Covid19 – because having enough money means being able to pay for food and shelter and medicine, which people need to live.

Coronavirus is a public health issue. But so is unemployment. It causes depression, alcoholism, substance abuse, and poverty. How many drug overdose deaths will there be because of the economic destruction of Massachusetts citizens?  In 2019, there were more than 1,500 opioid overdose deaths confirmed in Massachusetts – and possible more than 2,000. These figures are comparable to the number of deaths from the coronavirus in the state thus far in 2020. How many more deaths will result from the lockdown of the economy throughout the state?

Governor Baker must use common sense to unlock the economy. It is already clear that public health officials and physicians will seek a continuation of the lockdown until there widespread testing of the population and even a vaccine for the virus – perhaps a year and a half away. This counsel must be rejected.

Massachusetts is one state. But we are not all having the same experience with coronavirus. A few areas have been hit hard. Some areas have felt a moderate hit. And some have been largely unscathed or are well on the road to recovery.

Since the experiences of various regions within the state are not the same, it does not make sense to treat all regions as if they were the same – especially considering the tremendous cost of continuing the shutdown.

Similarly, certain subgroups of our cherished fellow residents have been hit hard by the coronavirus. But most have not. It does not make sense to treat all groups of people in the state the same – especially when preventing low-risk people from working does so much harm to them.

Continue the lockdown (for the time being) in Boston and other areas with high rates of infection. Focus health care attention on senior facilities – nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities.

But lift the economic lockdown in counties and towns where there have been no deaths from Covid19 and less than one-half of 1 percent of the population has reported cases. Businesses should be allowed to open at their discretion. 

Some businesses may not open if their employees don’t feel safe because of the fear caused by the public health officials, faithfully spread by the mainstream media. That’s their call. But they have to be given a fighting chance – so that the people who work for them have a fighting chance.

Governor Baker, the public health experts have often been wrong about this virus.  Ignore their advice. Open up the economy now.