Froma Harrop: Virus or economy is a futile choice

 

Froma Harrop

 

 

Florida, Arizona, Texas and California are among the states that thought they could reopen early. They also got sloppy with requirements for wearing masks and social distancing. Now their ICUs are stretched to breaking with coronavirus patients.

 

And guess what. For all that putting the public's health in jeopardy to help their economies, their economies are sick as well.

 

A new Morning Consult poll strongly suggests that consumer confidence will not turn into spending without virus confidence. More than half those surveyed said they didn't feel safe inside a shopping center, according to Bloomberg News. The article featured a photo of a nearly deserted mall in Tucson.

 

 

A silent majority is watching maskless masses frolic on crowded beaches, carouse at bars or attend Donald Trump's rallies, and it's not seeing freedom. It's seeing disease. It's seeing narcissism, ignorance and a feeble political leadership incapable of enforcing discipline.

 

In May, a man went haywire at a 99 Cents Only Store in San Antonio after being told he had to wear a mask. "Just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it legal!" he hollered. Actually, the store had the right to require masks.

 

But the public safety message would have gone smoother had Texas Gov. Greg Abbott not refused to make mask wearing a state mandate. Abbott recently reversed himself on this, but early action might have spared Texas its current crisis.

 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis still refuses to require mask wearing in public. DeSantis said he trusts people "to make good decisions."

 

One of those good decisions might be to avoid Florida. Last Sunday, Florida reported 10,059 new coronavirus cases. New York state, once the epicenter of the pandemic, had 536 -- and it did more testing.

 

The economic consequences of a virus on the rampage are obvious. Only two weeks ago, the top search on TripAdvisor was for Miami Beach. One week later, New York City outranked almost all Florida and California cities on the travel research website. And that's with museums and Broadway still shut.

 

As for trusting people to make good decisions, neither Florida nor any other state trusts bargoers to drive home blind drunk. So why let them infect innocents with an often-deadly virus?

 

New York City just entered phase 3 of its reopening. That includes nail salons and tattoo parlors. Indoor restaurant dining has been put off -- a precaution linked to the virus' advances elsewhere in the country. New York has matched Europe in curbing the spread, and the state doesn't want the huge sacrifices forced on its people to be for naught.

 

There's a matter of optics as well as numbers. Can the people trust their politicians to make good decisions?

 

Consider the forceful response to partygoers who ignited a new COVID cluster just north of New York City. Several attendees of the three house parties refused to cooperate with contact tracers. Some even lied about having been there.

 

There was little outpouring of sympathy for the young revelers. No chants about freedom.

 

"I am not going to stand idly by while you risk the health of this county," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said. "With those subpoenas, a failure to comply brings with it a $2,000 fine. That could be repeated every day."

 

And what about local economies once the worst has passed? The Morning Consult poll showed that half the respondents weren't keen even then on entering a movie theatre, sports stadium or concert venue. Two-thirds said they'd rather patronize restaurants where employees wear a mask and tables are spaced out.

 

And so the choice isn't between the virus or the economy. Where the virus prospers, the economy surrenders.

 

 

 

 

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