BY JOSEPH STURGEON
Since around mid-March, most states in the U.S. have issued stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, roughly two months later, many states are developing plans to lift these orders and reopen public spaces. As COVID-19 is still spreading, and no approved vaccine has been developed in response to the virus, reopening public spaces such as parks, restaurants, museums and others may not be the safest option right now.
According to White House guidelines, states should only reopen after they have observed a downward trajectory in coronavirus cases within a 14 day-period. More than half of U.S. states are planning to reopen, yet most of these states do not meet the guidelines. Reopening when there isn’t an observable downward trajectory in cases is dangerous, and may diminish any progress that was being made in slowing the virus’ spread.
While coronavirus cases may be slowing in urban areas, the virus has started to spread in rural communities and among prison populations. According to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation, between April 13 and April 27, coronavirus cases in non-metro (largely rural) counties increased by 125% and deaths increased by 169%. In that same time period, metro (mostly urban) counties saw a 68% increase in cases and a 113% increase in deaths. Rural counties typically see less movement and interaction than urban communities, but factors such as a lack of healthcare resources and virus awareness can be fatal to rural communities’ health. The reopening of states with heavy rural populations like Maine or Oklahoma, which are already planning to reopen, could be fatal for these communities.
The reopening of states with heavy rural populations like Maine or Oklahoma, which are already planning to reopen, could be fatal for these communities.
The coronavirus pandemic has also started to seep into America’s prison systems. As of May 20, there have been at least 29,251 reported cases of COVID-19 among America’s imprisoned, and at least 415 deaths. Crime has gone down in most cities since states began enacting social distancing rules, and if cities reopen and arrests begin to spike, new people circulating into prisons can exacerbate the issue. As prison inmates are more likely to have underlying health conditions than those who are not imprisoned, circulation in and out of America’s prison systems can be increasingly dangerous during the pandemic.
In addition to this, since the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S., tracking its spread has been difficult. As people continue to pour into hospitals and health departments, it’s hard for healthcare workers and officials to keep track of their numbers, especially since there’s no set standard across the country for reporting the data. As new numbers become available as each day passes, Americans aren’t getting a clear and consistent picture of what is actually happening with the COVID-19 pandemic. Until the picture is more clear, states should refrain from reopening.
It is very understandable for people to want to return to the way things were before the pandemic began. But, it is also important to be realistic—we shouldn’t reopen until we know that it is completely safe to. That isn’t right now, and the priority should be to protect people’s lives.
Photo courtesy of Click2Houston