It was inevitable COVID-19 cases would rise when Texas began reopening its economy. No one promised otherwise. It also was inevitable that Texas and the rest of the world would reopen their economies.
Most people who have opposed reopening haven’t offered a viable alternative. Hide at home until there’s a vaccine? Let thousands of businesses and millions of jobs fade into history until there’s a vaccine?
How would that work exactly?
The only way to move ahead is to carefully coexist with COVID-19. And whether we can do that without draconian government intervention depends on whether we can be responsible and stop pretending the virus has left the building.
The truth, if you listen to science, is that we’re going to have to coexist with COVID-19 for quite some time.
In early May, White House coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said a COVID-19 virus vaccine is possible by January.
But Birx, appearing on Fox News Sunday with anchor Chris Wallace, clarified that a “vaccine on paper” is possible by the start of 2021, and it would require the proper execution.
Experts have estimated it would take 12 months to 18 months to develop a vaccine and several potential vaccines have moved forward to clinical trials, Fox News reported.
There was no other way but to reopen the economy. Even the limited and fairly short restrictions will have been too much for some businesses to recover. Locking down again would be the final, fatal blow to many of those businesses. And yes, the economy matters. Only people financially secure and able to comfortably watch Netflix all day would disagree.
Back to inevitabilities. What wasn’t inevitable is how quickly cases are rising in Galveston County and elsewhere with the reopening of the economy. That rise was concern enough for Dr. Philip Keiser, the county’s public health authority, to hold a press conference Wednesday to ask residents here to double down on precautions, including wearing masks, practicing social distancing and essentially to stop behaving as if the COVID-19 pandemic is over. It isn’t.
Acting as if COVID-19 is over is flirting with disaster. If cases rise by too much and too quickly, hospitals will become strained, Keiser said. People will die and governments will be compelled to take draconian measures and make choices for you, which nobody should want.
Coexisting with COVID-19 doesn’t mean we hide in our houses. It means practicing good hygiene and social distancing at work, at home and at play. It means taking precautions, including wearing masks where social distancing isn’t possible. And it also means not going through symbolic motions believing a mask has you entirely covered.
Masks work, Keiser said Wednesday. But they’re not magical talismans, so wearing them around your neck or otherwise improperly is a futile gesture. And they’re only part of the equation. Social distancing and keen attention to hygiene such as hand washing are still key to reducing the spread.
Coexisting with COVID-19 doesn’t mean gathering in large crowds without precautions or hanging out at bars, becoming more cavalier and uninhibited with every cocktail. It means accepting the limits the virus imposes.
It means the most vulnerable — the elderly and people with preexisting conditions — should consider remaining in isolation. It means taking measures not to expose the most vulnerable populations to the virus.
Coexisting means choosing restaurants and businesses that are clearly and openly working to reduce the spread among employees and patrons and demonstrating best practices. It means supporting business operators who are being honest and transparent about infections among employees. It means walking away from those who aren’t.
It means taking personal responsibility and caring for our immune systems. No one else can do that for us.
As Texas reopens, cases are going to rise. We can’t stop that, but we can slow it. We can avoid straining our hospitals while living semi-normal lives as best we can.
It’s easy to forget that “flattening the curve” was never about stopping COVID-19 — without a vaccine or cure, that’s a pipe dream. It’s about keeping the hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. We still have a chance to do that if we’re careful. It isn’t too late.
It’s true COVID-19 can cause varying degrees of illness and is especially threatening for older adults and people with existing health problems, who are at risk of severe effects, including pneumonia.
Keiser on Wednesday pointed out that younger people in Galveston County are contracting COVID-19. That’s probably because they feel invulnerable.
Those young people are correct in thinking the coronavirus typically causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, with the vast majority recovering from the virus. But Keiser also noted those younger people are taking COVID-19 home, infecting parents and grandparents.
If everyone would support responsible businesses and enjoy family and friends responsibly, we could coexist with COVID-19 until we don’t have to and preferably without much more government intervention.
• Laura Elder