I was as happy about Tim Walz’s lifting of the stay-at-home order as anybody. Okay, maybe not as happy as the owner of a non-essential retail store or a self-employed hairdresser, but I was pretty happy. The lifting of the SAHO means that I can finally get together with friends and family that I haven’t seen in months, and maybe soon after, return to the gyms and restaurants and breweries that I used to frequent weekly several moons ago.
But part of me wonders if I should be happy. Is Minnesota really ready for this step? Have we really bought ourselves enough time to prepare for the worst that this virus has to offer? Is Walz really doing what’s smart and right, or just what’s politically palatable to a restless population?
I think most medical experts would say the latter. I’m not even going to pretend to understand all the data and curves, but those who do seem to agree that the worst is yet to come. I’ve been on the listen-to-the-experts bus since it left the station, and if the medical experts were calling the shots, I don’t think I would have done my first set of push-ups in over two months today in preparation for some early-June bench press.
However, when I say listen to the experts, I’ve always meant ALL the experts, and that includes economic ones. The economic damage inflicted by these societal shutdowns is already calamitous on a macro-scale, and the worst kind of life-altering for some on the micro. Every extension of the SAHO means that damage will only become graver, with innumerable (I’m sure there is a number, I just don’t know it) more layoffs and small business failures, leading to a lengthier and more strenuous recovery.
So, where do we draw the line? At what point does the economic damage wrought by stay-at-home orders outweigh the potential lives that are being protected? Anyone who says “never” just isn’t being honest, but that doesn’t make the question easy to answer. It’s one of the reasons that I have a lot of empathy for our elected leaders during this crisis. Of course, everyone’s got an opinion, but it’s easy to have an opinion that doesn’t carry the weight of consequence. I just know that I’m glad that I’m not forced to choose between destroying the livelihoods of young entrepreneurs or the lives of old folks in assisted living.
And I also don’t think it’s as easy as telling those old folks to stay home while the rest of us go about our lives. As a relatively young guy in relatively good health, I need to keep reminding myself that the SAHO isn’t necessarily about protecting ME, it’s about trying to prevent me from becoming a link in a chain that could contribute to the spreading of the virus to the most vulnerable.
And the most vulnerable aren’t just old people. There are plenty of unancients with underlying health problems that could be headed for long and happy lives, but for whom COVID-19 could be a death sentence, especially if we overwhelm the healthcare system. My wife works at a chemotherapy clinic where folks of all ages come in for treatment, but due to the chemo, also have weakened immune systems. Just the thought of me bringing a case into my home that my wife could bring into her work fills me with a level of guilt and dread that I’m not sure I could handle if it were to become a reality.
This is one of the reasons that I have been a supporter of Walz’s actions thus far. I’ve been nowhere near perfect. Like most people, I’ve found ways to bend the rules to make my life more tolerable and convenient during this boring-ass time. But I’ve also based my bending off the rules as they are written, which has led me to being more well-behaved than I would be if the rules were different. And as a fellow teacher of high school students, I think Walz understands this. Give kids an inch and they’ll take a mile, so if you don’t want them to have a mile, give them half-an-inch instead. Us adults are no different.
So, I guess we’ll see where this goes. I’m excited to regain some semblance of normalcy in my life and reestablish some of my pre-COVID routines. I’ll be ready to turn back the dials again if my trusted leaders tell me that’s what’s necessary. And I’m also ready to embrace some of the “new normal”—the aspects of our post-COVID world that will be forever different than the world we knew before. Hooray for Zoom meetings, good riddance to hand-shaking, and please Western Union, complete my money transfer to Hijo del Soberano so he can get my lucha-style cubrebocas on their way to Minnesota. Virus or no virus, I’m wearing these fucking things.