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Lives vs. lives: Why responsibly reopening is critical

Lives vs. lives: Why responsibly reopening is critical

A sign alerts customers that a business in Queens, which has one of the highest infection rates of coronavirus in the nation, is closed on April 03, 2020 in New York City. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

States are beginning to gradually reopen their economies in line with President Trump’s recent guidance. That’s terrific news – and not just for American pocketbooks.

As states evaluate when and how to reopen their economies, some governors may be reticent to reopen because they believe the narrative that this is a question of lives versus money.  One New York Times column went so far as to imply that those who want to reopen the economy view people as “disposable.” By keeping businesses closed, goes the narrative, states can protect the lives of its citizens. And that is understandable to a point. But the longer the shutdowns last, the more it becomes a matter of lives versus lives.

Every life is precious, which is why the organization I represent works hard to protect all life from conception to natural death. As a society, we must do all we can to save each individual who is sickened by this virus. Further, it is important and right that we take reasonable steps to limit the spread to others, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Indeed, we should be grateful to live in a country where life – at least after one is born – is mostly valued. And we can be thankful that, unlike many impoverished nations, we have the resources to briefly pause our economy without immediate, catastrophic consequences.

But as some leaders, including a health advisor to Democrat nominee Joe Biden, openly discuss a need for shutdowns that could last 18 months or more, some serious disconnects are coming into focus.

The original justification for the shutdown was simply to flatten the curve so as not to overwhelm our health system. But now, some seem to be moving the goalposts – saying that as long as people are dying from the virus, it would be irresponsible to reopen the economy.

That viewpoint has two major flaws. First, it implies that Americans should aspire to live lives without risk. That is not an American ideal nor a Judeo-Christian ethic, and it’s not the way any average American lives. Controlling major risks in the heart of coronavirus hotspots is one thing; keeping an economy closed even in areas where viral impact is minimal is quite another.

Second, the shutdowns themselves are already putting lives at risk, and the longer they go, the worse it will get. Already, economists have projected unemployment as high as 32 percent – just from the current shutdowns. To put that in perspective, the peak unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 24.9 percent. It’s no wonder that calls to some suicide and mental health hotlines have already skyrocketed – 25,000 per week in Indiana alone, a 25-fold increase.

Continuing the shutdowns any longer than necessary threatens to bring the American economy to its knees. The cost in lives, suffering and mental anguish would be unknown to any recent generation of American families.

That’s why the outlook for states pursuing an imminent and responsible reopening of the American economy is good news indeed for the life of our nation.

John Paulton manages mobilization for Family Policy Alliance.

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