The coronavirus curve is finally flattening, but so is the U.S. economy. When a full month of dutiful adherence to stay-at-home advisories has passed, Americans rightly expect to see a loosening of restrictions. With thoughtful attention to proper balance between health and financial well-being, authorities will hinge their legacies on whether they choose wisely before hitting hit the “start” button.
In a conference call with state governors Thursday, President Trump outlined new guidelines for a gradual reopening of the economy after May 1. He recommends a three-phase relaxing of restrictions on work, travel, school and social activity for states or regions. But first they must demonstrate a 14-day downward trajectory of coronavirus — and influenza-like symptoms and documented cases, and provided their hospitals are functioning comfortably within their patient capacity and are equipped to fully test their staffs for the virus.
Referring to an 18-page paper titled “Opening Up America Again,” Mr. Trump told a White House briefing audience, “We have to do that. America has to be open and Americans want it to be open.” If done with enough care to avoid a resurgence of the dreaded disease, citizens will gladly come out of hiding in “the land of the free.”
Some governors, though, have made it clear their decisions about reopening business will be guided by their own rules. State executives, led by New York’s Andrew Cuomo on the East Coast, California’s Gavin Newsom on the West Coast, and Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker in the Midwest are forming regional pacts to coordinate their plans.
Mr. Cuomo stole the spotlight from the president Thursday by earlier in the day tweeting, “New York on PAUSE will be extended in coordination with other states to May 15.” Ditto for Delaware. And New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have expressed interest in following suit.
Elsewhere, some Democratic governors have enacted stay-at-home rules that defy common sense. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered state businesses to stop selling springtime home improvements merchandise like garden hoses and seeds so residents would have no choice but to stay put inside. Thousands of angry Michiganders instead grabbed their car keys and joined a miles-long motorized parade to the capital in Lansing on Wednesday. And Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, holding a coronavirus briefing at the Frankfort capital, was forced to compete with the din from protesters shouting, “We want to work.”
In principle, federalism affords states the right to generally manage their own affairs in response to conditions on the ground rather than in Washington, with exceptions. States with intentions — pure or political — to buck the president’s plans for reopening the nation for business could wind up running afoul of the Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
A pact among states that would substitute governors’ guidelines for the president’s is unlikely to pass constitutional muster, lawyer and radio host Mark Levin told his audience Wednesday. “How is it, if the president thinks certain activities in one state that affect interstate commerce and can affect another state, that he doesn’t have the power to act? That’s absurd.”
The coronavirus pandemic has unquestionably dealt a devastating blow to the nation, with the death toll exceeding 35,000. “Deaths of despair” also loom, though, the consequence of the economic shutdown that has thrown 22 million Americans out of work over the past month, writes health care expert Betsy McCaughey in The New York Post. “If unemployment hits 32 percent, some 77,000 Americans are likely to die from suicide and drug overdoses as a result of layoffs.” That jarring forecast could exceed the death toll projected for the virus itself.
Americans want and need to get back to work. Regions largely spared the contagion’s ravages — primarily the Midwestern states with low population densities — should be allowed to restart the process, with strong encouragement to maintain socials distancing and cleanliness precautions. Heavily populated states should take a more granular approach. Though more than 8,000 persons have perished in New York City, rural Oswego County 280 miles to the north, for example, has lost zero.
A rational approach to the “start” button, untouched by political calculus, should return states to economic prosperity without a relapse of disease. Grateful states might memorialize in marble leaders who get it right.
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