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When it comes to reopening, both sides operate from a position of massive ignorance

Michael Barone on

Time for reopening? Let's reframe the question. Time for what to reopen? With what precautions? In which states and counties and communities? Mandatory reopening or voluntary?

And who really decides? Governors, mayors, the president? Business owners or consumers? Does anyone really expect what economist Arnold Kling calls "patterns of sustainable specialization and trade" to snap back into pre-COVID-19 shape?

Any effort to address questions yields the lesson that one-size-fits-all answers are ill-suited for a nation of 329 million people, half in million-plus metropolitan areas and the other half thinly spread out over a continent-sized landmass.

Nonetheless, much of the public debate assumes, Twitter-style, that there is just one decision to be made, presumably by President Donald Trump. And partisan affiliation shapes many Americans' responses.

Democrats, usually boastful of respecting alternative lifestyles, tend to insist that lockdowns stay in place. Republicans, sometimes depicted as deferential to traditional authority, tend to favor reopening.

Both sides operate from a position of massive and unavoidable ignorance. So do even the most respected experts. Epidemiologists' projections of mass deaths have been far off; speculation about modes of virus transmission has been largely discredited; ventilators, initially considered vital, now seem ill-suited to the virus.

 

Lockdowns ordered by state governors and encouraged by Trump were premised on a need to avoid overwhelming hospitals and caregivers. But outside New York City, hospitals are half-empty, and caregivers are being laid off.

They've joined the 22 million who had filed for unemployment by mid-April -- Great Depression levels. Low-skill workers, whose wages have finally been rising more than average in the Trump years, have been hit hardest.

Polling shows majorities favor continued restrictions on reopening, especially if the question mentions the possibility of a second wave of infection. But there is also increasing evidence of people going out in public and chafing at restrictions.

The partisan tilt of responses reflects the incidence of the virus. It has struck hardest in New York and, though much less, in other large metro areas, and those able to continue working for pay tend to be white college graduates: mostly Democratic voters. Outside million-plus metros, it has caused few deaths, and those losing paychecks tend to be non-college grads: mostly Republican voters.

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Copyright 2020 U.S. News and World Report. Distibuted by Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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