On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters gathered in Raleigh to protest the stay-at-home order, claiming that the mandated closure of many businesses was causing unnecessary harm to the economy. On the same day, it was declared that the virus is the leading cause of death in the nation.
Public health experts agree that physical distancing is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When restrictions are eventually eased, it is nearly certain that there will be a spike in cases, so they must only be eased once a series of measures are in place, including widespread testing and contact tracing for positive cases, increased health care capacity including workforce and beds, ample personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and ventilators, and ideally a safe and proven treatment or vaccine.
When COVID-19 cases began appearing in North Carolina in early March, data models predicted that the pandemic would peak in the state in late April. Since then, the updated state-wide models have shown that if physical distancing continues beyond April, the peak will shift to mid-to-late-May, evidence that physical distancing is working. The peak will continue to shift in this way until restrictions are eased. This is why it’s so important for us to “buy time” to ensure that every corner of our state and nation is fully prepared, because there will be more cases and more deaths.
COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on our state and nation in recent months, particularly among communities of color, which have experienced disproportionate rates of illness and death as a result of the virus. In addition, individuals and families are facing numerous challenges including unstable housing, food insecurity, interpersonal violence, anxiety and depression, and difficulty making ends meet. The hardships to individuals and families brought on by COVID-19 are real.
Despite these serious challenges, reopening businesses would only create more hardship. It would be catastrophic to the health and well-being of every North Carolinian, take us several steps back in the progress we’ve made thus far with the shelter-in-place measures, and would significantly extend the time it will take for us to recover from this pandemic.
Strong public infrastructure — our government — needs to step up to establish policies and programs that commit to improving well-being, not only during this pandemic but especially in light of the devastation it has caused. Hardship can and should be minimized through federal and state actions that prioritize and address people’s economic challenges.
Rather than oppose expert measures taken to protect us, we should stay at home as an act of solidarity — solidarity with the people who are suffering to make sure we all have a chance at staying healthy and safe, and solidarity with people who must continue to go to work at great risk for our collective benefit.
We should be urging our state and federal government to quickly craft solutions to the health and economic devastation we’re facing as a state and nation.
Easing restrictions and hoping for the best is not an option. It would be immoral and irresponsible to place the concerns of businesses ahead of actual human lives. It is critical that government ensure that people have access to the public goods and services they need to survive and thrive.
We must not take the decision to lift the stay-at-home order lightly, despite any temptation we have to resume our pre-pandemic lives. Staying home may be a challenge; however, it’s an act of solidarity for the greater good.
Suzy Khachaturyan is a policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.