Re-opening the U.S.: How soon is too soon? 


May 29, 2020

Editor’s note: The Coalition on Human Needs recently asked our online supporters how coronavirus has affected their families. Hundreds wrote in to share their stories. This is one of a continuing series of stories about the personal effects of the pandemic – and what must be done to help people in need. If you have a coronavirus story you would like to share, please click here.    

CHN supporter Dale Wisely of Birmingham, Alabama is worried that “the worst is yet to come” in terms of COVID-19 infections. He worries that his own state — and others — are opening up too quickly for normal activities. 

“Our polarization is at work,” Dale posted on Facebook. “We’re to believe we either are in the stay-closed-and-destroy-the-economy group or the open-up-and-party group. We could have opened up cautiously and effectively if more would be willing to wear masks and practice social distancing. Instead, some decided to go with conspiracy theories, to scoff at science, to whine about their individual rights, and to politicize what should have been seen as common sense, I hope I’m wrong and WHO is wrong. If not, we’ll have many more die and the economic devastation will be much worse than we have already seen.” 

How soon is too soon to re-open the country?

When CHN recently asked our online supporters how the coronavirus pandemic has affected them and their families, one type of response surprised us. A number of people emailed to complain about states opening back up, and protests against closures, wearing masks, social distancing, and so on. The reason this response came as a bit of a surprise? We hadn’t asked the question, had not solicited people’s opinions about whether the U.S. is opening too soon. 

But people let us know what was on their minds. And in the debate between the two extremes — those who want us to stay at home vs. those who want to open everything up, and fast — they let us know where they stand. 

Susan of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania said she is a senior citizen, vulnerable to COVID-19, and is “totally at a loss” when it comes to figuring out how to safely venture outside. 

“Frequenting re-opened dine-in restaurants, bars, massage, nail and hair salons, workplaces, churches and gyms seems analogous to having unprotected sex with a new partner without knowing your own or their HIV status,” she writes. “The desire to engage can overshadow the risk of death or at least a life-changing, health-changing outcome. How much of the immediate outcome is worth the long-term consequence? Yes, masks and social distancing offer some measure of protection. I personally need reliable testing capabilities — just as with HIV prevention — to feel a degree of safety.” 

Kathleen of Edgewood, Colorado says, “People not taking this virus serious stresses me out.” 

“I have become a hermit in a cave, afraid to go anywhere” she says. “People are not social distancing and wearing masks like they should, when I go for groceries or my medication, while I wear my mask and social distance. They endanger my life and the lives of others. The concern about the economy seems to be more important than Americans’ lives and safety.” 

Charlene of Otho, Iowa says her brother-in-law died of COVID-19. “Damn right it’s affected our life!” she writes. “Trump squandered an opportunity to nip this virus in the bud in the U.S. And now there are not enough tests (for illness and antibodies). Workers are not protected in the workplace. The Governor of Iowa is throwing us into the lions’ den. There is no organization or unity as a country. We’re all on our own. What a shit show!” 

Re-opening too soon can lead to a deadly second surge.

Nan of Berkeley, California is 76 years old; her husband is 83. She and her husband are proud of the job California has done in limiting the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. “Unfortunately, the President urging on folks who are unhappy with the current situation has given support to the protesters,” she writes. “The President’s lack of leadership is abysmal and thank god for the scientists!” 

One of the more therapeutic messages we at CHN received came from “M.” of Mead, Washington. He wrote to say that he is angry at the President, angry at the weakened power of the CDC, angry at the protesters objecting to stay-at-home orders, angry at people carrying guns into state capitols, angry at people dying every day, especially people of color, angry at first-responders being placed at risk, angry at “alternative facts,” angry at science not being taken seriously, angry at a lot of other things space does not allow us to delve into, and “ANGRY at sheeple. Extremely angry at sheeple.” 

“Wow, that was cathartic,” M. writes. “I’ve needed to let that out for a while. Thank you. I feel much better now.”