The dark cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a new and, for many, an even more frustrating phase. While an uncertain future unfolds, some parts of our nation, state and local community are beginning to allow certain businesses to reopen while others are keeping policies to stay home in place.
Nationally, Georgia led one extreme, allowing some “non-essential” businesses such as salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors to reopen even as infection and death rates continued to rise.\On the other hand were states such as New York and Illinois, which delayed such openings even though death and infection rates appeared to be leveling off.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson took a middle and somewhat confusing course, saying that the state’s emergency declaration will remain in force until June 15 but that certain businesses will be allowed to reopen May 4. Local restrictions, such as those in St. Louis and St. Louis County, will be allowed to remain. So the outlook for the coming days is unclear.
We hope the contrasting approaches to getting back to business will provide better evidence about when it will be truly safe to do so and not lead to a spike in new infections, as some fear. History, such as actions after the 1918 Spanish flu, has shown that a premature return to business as usual can have disastrous consequences, and polls have shown that most Americans favor a go-slow approach to reopening businesses.
In any case, such decisions must be made on medical grounds, not political ones. Despite destructive and divisive posturing and blame shifting and misplaced calls to “liberate” states from sensible restrictions, Congress has managed to approve massive bills intended to provide urgently needed relief to devastated small businesses and to protect the jobs of those who have been furloughed or fired. Further bold, bipartisan bills to expand federal funding are likely to be needed going forward.
As federal, state and local officials grapple with these daunting challenges, what can isolated, homebound citizens do? Here are some suggestions:
• Assume an attitude of gratitude. Call, email, text or join Zoom conferences and volunteer to help at the Jewish Food Pantry, the Jewish Federation or the Jewish Community Center. Donate blood at Red Cross drives, and support the United Way and the myriad smaller nonprofits that do life-sustaining work.
• Give enthusiastic, heartfelt thanks to frontline workers such as the brave doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who work in hellish emergency rooms, risking their own health and lives to protect us. Recognize the people who pick up your trash, deliver your packages, check you out at the stores that remain open, and keep our homes and our streets safe.
• Advocate fiercely for isolated nursing-home residents; more than 10,000 of them have died nationally, and scores locally. They are not expendable old folks. They are our parents and grandparents, and we are commanded to honor and protect them.
The pandemic remains serious and scary, and things won’t get better through mere platitudes. We all must show grit, generosity and action, not merely empty words. As hard as it may be, when one day blends into another and this week may seem no different from last week or the week before, add your own actions to make things better and express your gratitude for the many blessings in our individual and collective lives.
Make the time to engage in tikkun olam, to repair a broken world, and in chesed, acts of loving kindness. We’re all in this together, and that is the only way we will get through it.