Saturday, June 6, 2020

Column: Stay-at-home order extended until at least … sigh

April 18, 2020
A journal photographed during the coronavirus quarantine on March 24, 2020.
A journal photographed during the coronavirus quarantine on March 24, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the first stay-at-home order on March 24. My friends and I began counting down the days until April 13, the date that fell 21 days after the issue date and the date we presumed would mark the resumption of normalcy.  

That now feels like eons ago. 

The latest order extended the stay-at-home provisions through April 30. New York recently extended its mandate until “at least May 15,” and with Michigan currently being the state with the fourth most cases, Whitmer will likely soon follow suit. But when President Trump originally announced his wish to have everyone working again by Easter, I realized something.

I realized that these provisions would continue to be extended. The President and many state governors are very obviously mandating these preventative measures incrementally so as to stave off the widespread impatience of the public — because this is going to last a while.

When reading reactions to the findings from the Imperial College, a leading research university in London, I came upon that realization too.

In mid-March, it was estimated that widespread availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 would be in roughly 18 months. And while it’s infeasible to maintain such strict “mitigation” tactics until then, demonstrations against such measures like "Operation Gridlock" that took place in Lansing Wednesday affirmed that too many are missing the bigger picture.

Michigan residents blocked the streets in opposition of the stay-at-home order. I’m sure some were motivated by valid reasons, as the federal government has already shelled out trillions of stimulus dollars that aren’t even close to enough to provide for a public unable to work for the foreseeable future.

But while they may not represent the majority of people, those demanding a rapid return to normalcy indicate that many are simply thinking too short-sighted and will be sorely disappointed.

In talking to friends and family, the consensus I hear in response is “Well, I hope it doesn’t take that long,” or “Let’s not think that far ahead yet.”

But the thought that football might not return in the fall, the possibility of live concerts ceasing to exist until 2021 or the prospect of universities transitioning to online classes this August are all more than legitimate fears.

My eyes were opened up to the extent of COVID-19’s ramifications when billion-dollar operations like the NBA and NCAA were halted. Outside of all-out war, few, if any, events in history have warranted the cancellation of all public events and instruction to stay in one’s home until further notice.

While these events now seem trivial in the grand scope of things, their cancellation put the threat of the virus into a context I could best understand — there must be a good reason these things are shutting down.

So that’s where I remain puzzled. 

State governments — or the federal government, for that matter — would not require a majority of the population to stay home if it weren’t absolutely necessary. The economic implications are too severe, and the mental state of many is too fragile. 

So are we expected to maintain this state of living for a year or more? I don’t think so. I don’t think government officials do either. But we also can’t answer these questions yet. And, yes, that’s frustrating.

There are glimmers of hope in budding viral and antibody tests to allow clusters of people to resume work. That will take time. So will administering such tests to laymen.

There’s a newfound hope in Trump’s “Opening Up America Again,” as states will presumably begin to open in phases.

But mass gatherings will be put on hold for a while, and permissible interactions will likely be reduced to close friends and family — after such people have undergone testing. And as Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged of the guidelines Thursday, “there may be some setbacks.”

Like Jeremy Young summarized, life as we know it will be altered for a long time.

It’s time we start coming to terms with that.

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