Photo Credit: Ray Terrill (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

When the COVID-19 reached U.S. soil, our goal to deal with it we were told was to “flatten the curve.”

Modeling that public health officials looked at showed that we could be inundated with so many hospitalizations that it would overwhelm our health care system. The problem wasn’t just the coronavirus alone, but adding those cases on top of a busy flu season, it was a legitimate concern. All we had to do was look at Italy to see the results of a health care system that crashed. 

We certainly did not want to see that happen here; we also did not want to see what happened in New York City repeat itself in other places across the United States. 

So, we saw an unprecedented economic shutdown across the nation as most state governors gave a shelter-in-place order. Social distancing, canceling events, and other mitigation efforts are not new. The 1918 influenza pandemic saw social distancing measures implemented in cities and states across the United States at some point during that pandemic. The primary difference between the 1918 influenza pandemic and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is the scope. In 1918, the response was primarily local; in 2020, it is mostly at the state level driven by federal guidelines.

I land somewhere in between the “lock it all down” mentality and the “it’s not even bad as the flu” mentality. 

COVID-19 is serious. It is not the flu. It certainly poses more danger for those with underlying conditions and the elderly than an average flu season. In two short months, the death toll to COVID-19 in the United States has been high. We can’t yet compare it to the flu as the flu season is six months long, and we are only two months into this. That said, we don’t yet have enough data to determine a mortality rate accurately.

I am also concerned about the economic impact of the shutdown, and the infringement upon our inalienable rights. 

I think there are far too few of us who have an appendage in all three camps. There are far too many of us who favor safety and security over liberty, and compulsion over personal responsibility. 

Without data about this disease and adequate testing supplies, I understood things were going to change. Social distancing was reasonable. Changes in the way we did business were reasonable. 

My preference was to see people making changes out of personal responsibility, not government compulsion. I also do not believe a one-size-fits-all approach was necessary, considering Wyoming is not New York City, and neither places are the same as Iowa. 

That was not the route taken in most places.

So here we are where, in Iowa, we are six weeks into a public health emergency that has closed many businesses and restricted our ability to assemble, even from attending church by compulsion. (I think much of this was going to happen voluntarily and will continue for most for a time after restrictions are relaxed.)

Governor Kim Reynolds ordered a conditional re-opening for some businesses and locations (restaurants, malls, libraries, race tracks, and certain retail businesses) in 77 counties where there was little viral activity.

She also will allow farmers’ markets (with conditions) and houses of worship may meet in person once again starting May 1 statewide. 

Some additional governors are relaxing restrictions, and some continue to extend them. 

What I’ve seen throughout this pandemic is that the goalposts keep moving by those who advocate a lockdown. “Flatten the curve” has become “crush the curve” and “slow the spread” has become “stop the spread.” 

What exactly is the goal? This change in jargon is a bait and switch. Many of us, even if we didn’t agree with the closings and restrictions, could bide our time temporarily to ensure our health care system was not overwhelmed.

We can not “stop the spread” completely. That is impossible. And I would not be surprised to see additional cases of COVID-19 even after a state’s projected “peak” (which also seems to keep changing) after restrictions are lifted. 

The question is this: will it overwhelm the health care system? That was the original goal. If no, why not open up? 

New York City is past its peak, and they have yet to lift any restrictions New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a warning to the Jewish community that he will send the police to issues summons if they don’t stop gathering.

… For funerals. 

And he wants to “stop the disease.”

No, that’s not the goal of social distancing.

Is the health care system in New York City still overwhelmed? Not according to this emergency room doctor in Brooklyn. He’s calling for opening the city back up. 

That will look different for every state. It also doesn’t mean opening everything at once. It does mean heading in that direction and to stop moving the goalposts. 

There will, unfortunately, still be infections. There will, tragically, still be deaths. If our hospitals can accommodate it, governors no longer have cause to keep us locked up. Instead, they should, for the foreseeable future, continue to invest in protecting those who are most-at-risk, residents of long-term care facilities.

In Iowa, looking at the IHME model, we can see that even at our peak (which keeps changing with this model), we don’t yet come into the neighborhood of overwhelming our health care system. They don’t recommend relaxing our mitigation efforts until June 16, something that is not remotely sustainable unless you are still gainfully employed earning a paycheck working from home. Governor Reynolds is phasing in openings as it makes sense to do so in our state.

Emergency powers are temporary, stop moving the goalposts. 

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