When we’re ordered to do something and not simply asked, with such a demand comes almost by default the existence of a certain degree of urgency.
Our natural instinct when told to take shelter and stay put is to assume that we have to elude something dangerous, something that will harm us if given the chance. And we think that if we do take cover, the bad thing will soon pass and we’ll be able to emerge once again, safely.
It doesn’t require a great deal of nuance to assume that’s how such a scenario is supposed to play out.
But with COVID-19 and Minnesotans being told to stay at home for many weeks unless they have to venture out for necessities, that’s not how it works. This was not necessarily about hiding from a predator with the idea that it would soon come by, fail to spot us, and then move on, leaving us free to resume whatever it was we were doing before.
Yes, we wanted to reduce the spread. Increase testing capacity. And, all together now, on three: FLATTEN THE CURVE. But when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued the stay-at-home executive order in mid-March, and, as a result, education became all online and so many small businesses had to close their doors, at that moment it was more about lengthening the ominous situation; it was about buying time. When Walz held numerous briefings once his order was in place, he continued to refer to the “peak” of COVID-19 in Minnesota being pushed further into the future. The thinking was that if the virus’ maximum impact on Minnesotans could be pushed weeks and even months further into the future because of dramatic interventions like stay-at-home, the state would have more time to be ready for the peak, by having more tests available and enough personal protective equipment, ICU beds, ventilators and other life-saving resources our health care providers need.
But that’s just not how most people naturally think when they’re told they’d better get out of the way of something terrible that’s approaching fast and with a vengeance.
But it’s worked, sort of. Sure, who knows how many businesses won’t be able to reopen once they’re allowed to. But the stay-at-home order, when it comes to COVID-19’s peak in Minnesota, appears to have successfully pushed it off some. The thinking is, without the order, Minnesota’s health care providers were at much greater risk of being overwhelmed with people needing urging, life-saving care.
But, again, it takes some nuanced thinking to consider where we currently stand a big win, a balanced give-and-take. You can call people selfish for complaining when they “get to” stay at home and have food in the fridge, smartphones in their hands and Netflix on TV. But jobs that didn’t make people anywhere close to rich in the first place are being lost, and some aren’t coming back. Businesses are closing and they will continue to close, and some are not going to reopen. Families who live paycheck to paycheck are not receiving paychecks, and it takes a remarkably short amount of time for them to be teetering on the brink.
Although COVID-19 testing is on the rise in Minnesota, which, predictably, is resulting in reported infections rising significantly by the day, it’s easy to mostly disregard the boost in testing and focus just on the numbers and the charts and graphs depicting the virus’ impact going up, up and up. More infections. More deaths. Can a person be blamed for wondering, “Why I am still stuck at home and not working and not earning money my family needs?” (Because, that person is told, without these dramatic interventions, Minnesota right now could be in the midst of an exploding virus situation less like real life and more like an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster movie.)
Not surprisingly, Minnesotans are loosening their own restraints. Soon after Walz issued the stay-at-home order, it was reported that traffic on Minnesota roads dropped by a whopping 68%. We were the best social-distancing state in the country, we were told. But such success is fleeting. A more recent calculation last week found that motorists were using Minnesota roads only 26% less than they were pre-pandemic. Clearly, we’re getting restless.
Meanwhile, the danger still lurks right outside our door. But that’s the thing. Lives and communities and economies have been turned upside-down and may not be able to right themselves, and people start to wonder, what’s the point of all this? (An almost $2 billion projected state budget surplus a couple short months ago has now become an almost $2.5 billion deficit, it was announced Tuesday.) The daily virus updates continue to depress and, what’s that you say? A second, bigger wave of COVID-19 is coming in the fall, whether I stay inside or venture out? Oh, great.
You can see how people’s frustration eventually ramps up to despair, and anger. They see big-box retailers full of shoppers with sketchy social distancing skills being allowed to stay open from the get-go, but smaller businesses with far fewer customers were ordered closed almost two months ago, and many are still closed. And that “small” business emergency relief package worth hundreds of billions of dollars passed by Congress? Precious few pennies managed to make it down to the mom-and-pop level once big businesses that somehow qualify as small got their hands on all that money. When the economy is solid, these corporations want to be left alone with their mountains of cash, shareholder profits and regulatory loopholes, but when it all hits the fan, we’re supposed to believe that “We’re all on this together”?
This isn’t a partisan thing. This is about our well-meaning leaders in Minnesota, guided by very smart people, trying to navigate an awful situation. Because it goes both ways, after all, does it not? If everyone’s in such a rush to get back to a more normal life but doing so makes the pandemic that much worse, what message will that send to our most vulnerable populations, and our health care workers who have been risking their lives every day for months? Kind of a slap in the face to all of them, wouldn’t you say?
It’s just a bad deal all around. No one emerges on the other side unscathed. Our nation didn’t sufficiently prepare for this virus, and, as a result, here we are.
We’re not out of the woods yet, they say. But the thing is, with each passing day stuck at home and out of work, more people are clamoring for the freedom to take their chances in the woods. If they’re not allowed to, it’s going to get uglier. If they’re allowed to, it’s going to get uglier.
It’s a no-win situation. We can debate who’s most at fault until we pass out, but it doesn’t change that reality.