All of us are itching to get out of lockdown by now and happily looking to the day that we can chat with a friend across a table in a restaurant and enjoy a meal we did not prepare.
Most of us are patient, realizing that we are facing an unprecedented situation, but for many of our fellow Americans the lockdown threatens ruin.
The New York Post’s Paula Froelich describes a lengthening shutdown as “a luxury many Americans can’t afford.” Some of them are protesting. Froelich notes:
This month there has been a distinct dissonance in the national atmosphere — even more so than usual, which is saying something. It went from resigned despair to collective rage and protests. Protests which, for the most part, are not unreasonable.
I’m not talking about those carrying nooses, swastikas and guns — especially assault rifles. The group in Texas who guarded an illegally opened bar while reportedly brandishing loaded AR-15 type weapons, and people who marched outside without masks to scream at healthcare workers, assaulting them with their airborne saliva, are terrorists who aim to threaten people into doing what they want.
They seem to forget that living in a community means abiding by a set of rules and giving up certain things for the common good — and the “freedom” they’re screaming about is actually anarchy.
But there are also people like Texas salon owner Shelley Luther — who peacefully opened her hair salon in Dallas despite a stay-at-home order in a state with 34,000 cases of COVID-19 and 946 deaths.
She was sentenced to seven days in jail and a $7,000 fine but the judge told her he would commute her sentence if she admitted her actions were selfish — to which she replied (while wearing a face mask): “I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I am selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids… So sir, if you think the law is more important than kids being fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I’m not going to shut the salon.”
Luther, who has been released from jail by the direct intervention of the Governor, has become the representative of all the Americans who can’t afford much more lockdown. Texas AG Ken Paxton found it “outrageous” that a judge, who had released hardened criminals to spare them living in prison during the pandemic, had put Luther, whose crime was wanting to work and allow her employees to feed their families, in prison.
The prolonged lockdown has caused massive fissures in our society — mainly between those who can afford to stay home and those who can’t.
Working-class and blue-collar people, many of whom live month to month, are destitute right now. Mortgages and rent are due (or will be very soon) and there are miles-long lines for food banks in several states.
As one friend, a wedding cake designer and baker who lives near me in New York City and has prioritized food over rent, told me, “In a month the bill for three months will come due and I haven’t worked in four months — how am I going to cobble together that money? I will be on the street.”
Meanwhile, a very wealthy man who is riding the lockdown out in his beachfront mansion in Georgia uttered this jaw-dropping nonsense while we discussed the financial repercussions of the pandemic: “I just never got myself into a situation where I would ever have to live week-to-week so I guess I just don’t know what that’s like.”
In a nation where the median annual salary was $56,516, many people don’t have the option of not getting themselves into “that situation.” While we are in the midst of a terrifying pandemic, starving without shelter is just as dangerous in the long run as COVID-19.
Unfortunately, as with most matters in our fractured society, there is a partisan divide with the matter of the shutdown. Democrats tend to support more draconian shutdown policies, while Republicans are more eager to open up the minute it seems feasible.
Interestingly, and I have noticed this with my friends, my Democrat friends seem to be more intensely fearful than conservative pals. Liz Peek suggests that this has something to do with where we get our news. Democrats tend to rely on the New York Times and Washington Post, which, according to Peek, present a scarier picture than many conservative news sources.
Caution is appropriate, and especially for the sick and elderly. But most Americans are capable of returning to their not-quite normal lives, equipped with face masks and keeping their distance.
According to Peek, there is another encouraging bit of news: there are indications that as many as 88 percent of jobs lost in April might be temporary. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more job losses will be permanent.
We know more about the virus than we did a few months ago. Governors need to factor that into their decisions about opening up their economies. But that is not the only consideration.
“Dirty jobs” advocate Mike Rowe says we all need to think about the long term effect of being out of work and being deemed “inessential” workers. All our jobs are essential to ourselves and our families.
None of us want to open incautiously or too soon. But for some Americans it is getting perilously close to being too late.