Caution vs. Reopening: Is it time to return to normalcy?

Stephanie Suarez and William Dean

Illustration by Connor Lawless

By Stephanie Suarez

It feels unreal that the world celebrated the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic last month. We experienced a wave of darkness that swallowed everything in sight, but in these times, we’ve also learned to stand up against social injustice and celebrate the tiny victories in life.

People across the United States have begun to taste a bit of normalcy after months of anticipation for the COVID-19 vaccine. It feels like society is inching closer to a life where there is no more social distancing or mask mandates. The fear that any little social interaction can result in a positive diagnosis is diminishing.

But we’ve experienced this hope on multiple occasions, and the aftermath has been painfully disastrous. Connecticut’s reopening guidelines should be executed in a measured manner to keep all residents safe. After enduring isolation for nearly nine months, people began to travel far and wide to be with their loved ones for holidays, such as Christmas and the new year, without actively assessing the long-term impact. In a matter of three weeks, health care systems began to feel the strain of these events as cases began to skyrocket.

However, that didn’t matter to the travelers because the value of family outweighs the margin of risk for them to test positive for COVID-19. As a result, authorities reported over 4,500 COVID-19 related deaths on Jan. 20, a then-single-day record.

The United States should be in no rush to open too soon. (Photo from Pixabay)

I empathize with people who have been unable to surround themselves with loved ones since the start of the pandemic. The last “normal” day, when my school district shut down because of COVID-19, is a memory that’s burned into my brain. I had driven my new car to school for exactly one week. There was a growing buzz in the air about whether or not COVID-19 would actually affect Meriden, Connecticut, and if the music department trip to Disney World would still happen.

Since that day, I haven’t been able to hug or touch anyone outside of my immediate family because I’ve had to be extremely cautious for the sake of my 92-year-old grandmother. I would love to throw caution to the wind and have back one day of normalcy, but it needs to be executed in a safe manner for everyone in the community.

We can’t go to either extreme, where states have no mask mandates or the state’s planned phases continue to hurt businesses that struggle to survive. Instead, we should find an equilibrium that benefits all participants. A hypothetical situation could be for people who have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to have the privilege to begin to gather with other people who are also fully vaccinated in a private setting. To provide authenticity of a COVID-19 vaccine, Connecticut could follow in New York’s lead by creating an app that displays proof of vaccination and negative test results. Another possibility is for restaurants and businesses to assign designated areas that are mainly for vaccinated people in order to increase profits.

In a matter of two weeks, over 40 states have reported a rise in positive COVID-19 cases, and the hot spots of the moment are in the Northeast, California and Florida.

How many tragic milestones will the world have to reach in order for people to take this virus seriously and understand that it won’t go away overnight? It takes a group effort to slow the spread, and just because we’re tired of the regulations doesn’t mean it will make them go away faster. Connecticut has been praised for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it should continue with how reopening phases are planned and executed. However, the current reopening plan caused a surge in COVID-19 cases. The positivity rate is currently at 3% in New Haven County, indicating a very high infection rate.

I’m not just hoping that society is able to suppress the positivity rate and manage it to a safe number — I know it can be done. But we have to play our cards right and stick through with the regulations for a little longer. We’re all tired — we’ve all been through a lot — but we’re so close to conquering our own Mount Everest.

By William Dean

After a year of lockdowns, we ought to remember the bill of goods we were originally sold. In January 2020, the Chinese government weld shut the doors of its own sick citizens as the world watched. Nobody knew what “the coronavirus” was or how contagious and deadly it might be. People were scared.

By March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Increasing positivity rates and a lack of information about COVID-19 pressured Americans to accept then-President Donald Trump’s initiative of “15 days to slow the spread” on March 16.

Those 15 days turned into four weeks, which turned into two months and then the entire summer. One year later, we know what economist Milton Friedman meant when he said “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

Infographic by Connor Lawless

Lockdowns promised us peace of mind, but our health still fell into a downward spiral. For the first time in decades, cigarette consumption is increasing, and recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans’ mental health is at a 20-year low.

Opposition to lockdowns is simply a recognition that our treatment has been much worse than the disease.

The lockdowns are incredibly dangerous for young people. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that thoughts of suicide are rapidly rising among young adults. It reported that in July 2020, more than a quarter of all young people aged 18 to 24 “seriously considered suicide in past 30 days.” More recent data is unavailable, but that was just four months into the lockdown. Things have not gotten better.

And for what? In the United Kingdom, the average age of death from COVID-19 is 82.4 years old. Life expectancy in the U.K. is 81.1 years old. The CDC does not track deaths by the same metrics, but more than 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States occurred over the age of 65, and a whopping three in every 10 deaths come from those 85 and older. Other CDC data shows that nearly 80% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were overweight or obese.

Young adults’ immune systems are also more than capable of fighting off COVID-19. The CDC data shows that fewer than 2,200 people under 30 years old have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

I love my grandparents, and I will take the necessary precautions when visiting them, but the reality is that my friends have much better immune systems than they do. In a rational universe, different threat levels mean different levels of concern.

Like any other virus, COVID-19 is no walk in the park for even the healthiest among us. Still, the human immune system has fought much worse. Without controlling for age and weight, 982 of every 1,000 COVID-19 patients survive.

Yes, there are crazy people that want to have public gatherings of every size and closeness, but the rest of the U.S. knows how to wear a mask and social distance. This pandemic has been with us for a year, and if you are not with the program at this point, you never will be. There is no reason why the competent must be shackled by dim-witted people who don’t follow COVID-19 protocols.

Locking down to prevent the virus’ spread came with tragic, unseen costs. Thousands will die as a result of cancer diagnosed too late. Deaths of despair from drug abuse and suicide are rising at an uncontrolled rate. Anyone who uses Zoom can attest that children and college students have lost an entire year of education.

Connecticut’s recent steps toward reopening are a move in the right direction. Allowing restaurants to open to full capacity is just what struggling small businesses need to stay afloat, but these measures do little to solve our ongoing mental health crisis.

The lockdowns have done far more harm than good for the vast majority of Americans. Humans are social animals, and we lose a part of our humanity when social interactions are taken away.

No one voted to shut down society over a disease that primarily kills Social Security recipients, the severely unhealthy and the reckless. Governments foisted this inhumane treatment on the world without so much as asking. It is time for these despotic measures to end.