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Now is not the time to reopen

Demonstrators block the street outside of the New

Demonstrators block the street outside of the New York State Capitol Building on April 22, 2020 in Albany, New York. Protestors are calling on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to reopen New York State amidst a shutdown of all non-essential businesses due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Getty Images/Stefani Reynolds

We understand the desire to reopen Long Island, New York and the country and get the economy started again. We’d like that, too.

But wanting in the worst way to reopen the economy doesn’t mean we should reopen it in the worst way. That’s what small groups of people taking to the streets in some states, as they did in Albany on Wednesday, are pushing. By demanding that governors relax restrictions on work and movement now, especially in states with still-rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, protesters are demanding that governors defy science and risk gains made in fighting the virus with a premature return to normal that could spark a new round of infections.

There is important context needed to understand what’s happening.

  • This is not the our side vs. your side clash typical of our riven nation. The protesters are few. Most Americans want the country to stay closed for now, with upward of 70% saying they support a nationwide shutdown. This battle pits a handful of malcontents fighting against the search for the best public health plan to get the nation going again. 
  • ]Many protesters are supporters of President Donald Trump, who shamefully has egged them on with tweets urging them to “liberate” various states, all run by Democratic governors. What’s truly despicable is that many states protesters targeted — including Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia and others — do not meet criteria for relaxing rules laid out last week by Trump himself. Nor do the Republican-run states already announcing loosened guidelines, like Georgia, which is about to reopen gyms, barber shops, bowling alleys and restaurants. In Las Vegas, the mayor is pushing to reopen casinos, hotels and restaurants. While Trump is now criticizing Georgia’s governor, by largely failing to enforce his own rules it’s clear he has decided that his reelection depends on getting the economy humming again.
  • The protests have become de facto Trump campaign rallies, with Trump 2020 placards and American flags, and provide cover for airing a range of grievances that have nothing to do with the virus. Signs at rallies call for a ban on same-sex marriage, criticize communism and globalism, support the Second Amendment and religious freedom, and demand an end to what they say — without evidence — is a falsifying of statistics about the virus. Adding to the political sideshow feel: Some protests did not spring up organically, but were organized by right-wing activists pushing these non-coronavirus-related causes. 

Defying the protests are governors both Democratic and Republican, who say their states have not slowed infections and they don’t have supplies needed to carry out the regimen — testing for COVID-19, tracking contacts of those who are positive and testing them, and isolating anyone with the virus — required to be confident that it’s time to let people go back to work.

The financial anguish is real. But so is the toll of the virus, as well as the science that will determine when it’s safe to reopen. All the howling and political calculation in the world cannot change that equation.

— The editorial board