I can't help but think the reduced number of vehicles roaring around the city and the relative absence of jet planes overhead has given us a glimpse of what the world could be if we cleaned up our act and learned something from the current madness. What if we took climate change seriously? What if we reduced pollution in substantive ways? Not by banning air travel or cars, but by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. What if we learned to let more local goods and services be delivered to our door, instead of driving all over town for them? What if we gained some insight and perspective from this forced downtime we're all living through?
I inhale deeply, grateful for the ability to do so, when so many are fighting to breathe — grateful I still have a job and a column to write. I say a quiet prayer for the sick and for those working to help them get better — and for those keeping our groceries stocked and our mail delivered and our city safe. I pray for the small businesses struggling to stay afloat. Including the one I work for.
The disease, this COVID-19, it seems far away on this gorgeous morning, but the numbers don't lie: Around 45,000 people in this country have died; that's nearly one-quarter of the deaths worldwide. The United States is ground zero, and much of the country hasn't reached a peak or plateau of cases yet.
Still there is an understandable push to “reopen,” to get the economy back on track. On April 16th, President Trump laid out some guidelines for states to follow in order to restart their economies: “States should have seen a decline in COVID-19 cases for 14 days; reports of symptoms that might represent undiagnosed COVID-19 should have been in decline for the same period; and hospitals should have enough capacity to handle cases without operating in crisis mode and have a 'robust testing program' for health care workers.”
The president added that the guidelines “will allow governors to take a phased and deliberate approach to reopening their individual states. Governors will be empowered to tailor an approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states,” Trump said. “And some states will be able to open up sooner than others.”
Pretty sensible, actually. Good job, Mr. President.
But no. The very next morning, Trump tweeted out that residents of Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota should “LIBERATE” themselves, and encouraged protests against those states' governors.
What the hell? Why would the president lay out specific guidelines for states, then encourage people to protest against them the very next day? It's almost like Trump wants to get people stirred up, like he wants Americans to fight with each other, like he wants chaos and divisiveness. Surely that can't be true. That's like something Putin would do.
Or maybe he's just nuts.
However we got it, there's plenty of chaos to go around. The stock market is roller-coastering, mostly down. Oil prices have sunk to negative levels. (In a classic “Gift of the Magi” situation, gasoline prices are at rock bottom, but we can't drive anywhere.) And now, encouraged by the president, bands of protestors, many carrying assault weapons (because the 'Rona is scared of guns, y'all), are marching and horn-honking and megaphoning — demanding their rights to go get a haircut and eat at Olive Garden and reopen the country — now!
And you and I, my friend, as Southerners, live in the heart of “reopen country.” In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp has decreed that gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, beauty shops and salons, barbershops, body art studios, and more will be able to open this Friday, April 24th, despite that state's still-surging infection rate.
In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves is lifting the stay-at-home decree and opening the state for business on April 27th. Reeves says he believes his state has hit a plateau. (I do not believe that word means what you think it means, Tater.)
And Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has announced that on May 1st, Tennessee businesses can begin to open up, with the exception of counties with their own health department, where the local officials will have jurisdiction. For those of us in Shelby County, that means our timetable for reopening will be controlled by our locally elected leaders. I'm cool with that.
But around the country and around our state, the human Darwinism that's been ongoing for a few weeks will ramp up to a new level. Some businesses will open; some will open in a limited way; some will remain closed until their owners are convinced their employees and customers are entirely safe and comfortable being around others.
Some people will take the president at his word and LIBERATE themselves from wearing masks and social distancing (if they ever did either) and fearlessly go back to normal, the liberal hoax finally behind them. Others will keep an eye on the local case numbers, the rate of infections, the deaths — and the calendar — and will model their behavior accordingly.
Count me in the latter group.