Editorial: Better ways for elected officials to help during COVID-19

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 16, 2020

Arguments that now is the time to reopen the economy have grown louder this week, enlisting the voices of some elected officials, and prompting a small, in-person protest at the state capitol.

A Facebook group advocating for the state to “reopen” has amassed tens of thousands of members — 36,500 as of Wednesday afternoon. The vulnerable can be isolated or protected in other ways, the group says.

State Sen. Carl Ford, a Republican who represents Rowan and Stanly counties, hasn’t been shy about letting folks know he’s on the bandwagon, too. He told Post reporter Liz Moomey last week that he wants the stay-at-home order to wrap-up at the end of April, with some businesses being allowed to open back up and operate at 50% capacity.

Ford said he’s been flooded with concerns from constituents. Businesses are barely hanging on and, if closures for the sake of public health continue for several more weeks, they could be permanent, he said. He’s right about the effect on businesses. Too many people don’t have the money to buy essentials and can’t even begin to think about rent or utilities because of mandatory business shutdowns and layoffs. A continued shutdown will result in more layoffs, snowballing bills that will eventually come due and fundamental change in what our world looks like.

But our state must prioritize health or risk far greater losses to our economy — the workers and consumers who make it run.

There will be a time to “reopen N.C.” And there may be some benefit in starting the conversation now to provide the many people struggling with hope of returning to “normal.” However, doing so as quickly as business shutdowns, which politicians of all persuasions supported, does not fully consider the health implications of doing so.

The most important focus for state officials now is using the state’s surplus funds to provide additional support to individuals and businesses who are struggling. Ford and our state representatives should also ask hard questions of federal leadership about whether stimulus funding is actually going to the small businesses and individuals who need it rather than larger corporations and people who have the resources to sustain a prolonged shutdown.

In counties like Rowan, there is still a real danger of overloading our health care system if proper protocols aren’t followed and the general public doesn’t abide by social distancing requirements.

Reporting by the Post and statements by Accordius Health prove there is a major outbreak at The Citadel, on Julian Road. And an internal memo obtained by the Post says there are 96 positive COVID-19 cases — enough to eclipse weeks of the virus and the disease it causes spreading in the community. Even excluding the spike produced by positive cases from The Citadel, cases are increasing now at their sharpest rate yet. The number of people hospitalized is rising, too, and there’s been at least one new death reported every day this week.

Rowan County’s positive case and death totals already eclipse communities with much larger populations.

There’s a time and place for conversations about reopening the state, but we’re dealing with an escalating crisis in our community. For now, the politicians who represent Rowan County, on the local, state and federal level, can best serve their constituents in other ways than cheerleading for businesses to reopen.