There is a push right now across a lot of states - after six weeks of Stay-At-Home practices attempting to reduce the spread of COVID-19 - to reopen certain public places (like beaches) and certain businesses (like restaurants) even though the evidence is there that the United States is not in a safe place itself in terms of managing the health care response to the coronavirus.
Why are we even considering putting more customer service and other at-risk workers in harm's way?
1) States cannot cope with their overwhelmed unemployment benefits programs.
Much like Florida, collapsing under the weight of having more than 20 percent of the workforce dropping onto a benefits program that was underfunded and mismanaged to begin with, other states cannot cope with the overwhelming reality of that many people requiring aid all at once, and most of them needing that aid for more months than the state politicians do not want to contemplate. Iowa is doing it, Texas is doing it, Georgia is doing it... To quote the Reuters article by Andy Sullivan:
State unemployment laws generally do not allow workers to collect jobless benefits if they refuse work available to them, said Thomas Smith, an associate professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. That could force workers in Georgia back to their jobs at a time when it is not clear whether the risk of infection has abated, he said.
“You’re asking people to put their life on the line,” he said. “These people aren’t Army Rangers - those people signed up for combat. A barber did not...”
Some critics say the state’s early reopening is an attempt to push people out of a safety-net system that is straining state finances.
“I think that one of the big drivers of this decision by Kemp is to get people off unemployment rolls and having the private sector keeping these people afloat,” said Georgia employment lawyer James Radford...
Some Georgia businesses are opting not to open at all at this point due to employees’ safety concerns.
At Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta, general manager Steve Pitts said he and many of staffers are reluctant to come back to work while the pandemic is still not contained. The restaurant remains closed for now.
“I have a daughter and I want to be around for her,” said Pitts, 53. “It’s still too dangerous...”
2) States are terrified of the loss of their tax revenues, due to the drop of sales taxes that would be coming from many of those closed businesses.
Unlike the federal government - which can operate with large deficits no matter how much the Far Right scream about it - state governments ARE required in one form or another to stay within means (some have balanced budget amendments written into their constitutions). As a result, they rely a lot on local revenue either in the form of income (and corporate income) tax and sales tax... both of which are getting hit hard during Stay-At-Home policies. While incomes can remain relatively stable (most people still self-employed or working at-home can generate that) it's the sales tax part - from restaurants, clothing stores/gift shops, the drop in gas purchases, even a drop in grocery buying, movies and theater entertainment, theme parks, hotels (a lot of tourist-heavy states like Florida have been upping hospitality taxes for a long time), everything else - that's being lost every day that every store front, park gate, and eatery dining room is closed.
This one is a genuine (read: non-partisan) problem. And without more aid from a federal government - Hi Mitch, you obstructionist bastard! - the states have no choice but to force businesses to re-open to try and regain some driblets of tax revenue.
3) And most annoying of all: Minor faction of wingnuts - pushing for "Freedom" when in fact they're marching and shouting in order to make Democrats look bad - hate the inconveniences they are suffering and cannot imagine the health risks that will get dumped onto most low-wage (and usually minority) workers. And so they're making enough noise about it to give their political leaders the excuse to re-open anyway.
Some of those wingnuts don't even believe this coronavirus is that bad compared to other diseases and causes of death floating out there. So what if COVID-19 is an extra 2-to-5 percent risk to your grandparents? Never mind the evidence by the by that this virus is lethal to ALL ages...
There are, however, solid and reasonable arguments for why we NEED to remain shut down and Stay-At-Home for at least the next few months:
A) We do not have enough test kits in place to effectively identify and quarantine affected people. Without that, the asymptomatic carriers of the virus can keep walking around for weeks before showing actual signs of COVID... and be contagious enough to spread the virus without warning to others. Every other country that's been containing the pandemic successfully have an aggressive testing system in place. WE DO NOT. Okay? trump is lying about the number of tests we have available. trump's entire administration is lying. trump is motherfucking lying.
We are going to spread this bug like a zombie plague: Fast, terrifying, and with a pile of bodies in its wake.
B) We do not have enough protective gear and cleaning supplies available. Between the lack of filtering masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and soap, and other required (PPE) items, a lot of employees at public places are going to get exposed. Our own hospitals are short on these supplies, often because trump's own FEMA people keep raiding our states for that equipment which then disappears into someone else's warehouses.
This is not even going into greater detail about the horrors of the food processing - especially the meat - industry with low-wage workers in close-contact, easily-contagious work areas. We're running both the risks of contaminated foods reaching us, but also losing enough workers both short and long-term to create shortages and a food crisis. The food companies are under pressure to stay operating but they don't have the protective gear and testing of staff to keep doing so. We won't see it now but it's coming in another month or two, when the grocery stores still open run out of steak and pork and fresh fruits.
C) We do not have a coordinated and effective health care system to handle a wide-spread pandemic. There are not enough hospital beds and rooms, there are not enough hospitals period in rural areas (and despite all the talk from Republicans and the Far Right about this, COVID is already in these rural Red states and spreading faster...). The lack of adequate funding - many rural states refused the Medicaid expansion of Obamacare, which meant those rural (and poor) hospitals had to close - over the last thirty years has finally caught up to us.
And yet here we are. Even Democratic-controlled states are looking into "soft openings" of certain industries. We're upping the risks and doing little in other ways to bring those risks back down.
The whole point - and effectiveness - of Stay-At-Home is to reduce the risks and "flatten the curve" of the way pandemics come and go. As long as we can keep the bell curve of infection rates/deaths relatively shallow, we're good. But if that bell-curve of infection is steeper than the tall side of a mountain, we are screwed.
And we are at the front-end of that curve. The infection numbers are still going up. We're behaving like we're at the tail-end of the curve when we're nowhere near it!
We are royally sickeningly fucked.