Kitchens: Reopening Does Not Mean It’s Over

by Rep. Joel Kitchens, 1st Assembly District 

As we grapple with what it means to come out of the Safer at Home order, it is time to stop pointing fingers and blaming the other side, and to instead take a sober look at what our responsibilities are to each other. Perhaps I am an optimist, but I do not believe it is too late for us to find common ground and work together as we enter this new world.

Reopening does not mean we go back to normal, as much as I wish we could. As individuals, we must continue to follow the six-foot rule in distancing, cover our coughs, wash our hands frequently and wear face masks. We absolutely must stay home if we are not feeling well. We do these things not so much to protect our own health, but to protect others who might not recover if they are infected.

We need to move past the idea of viewing our choice in whether to follow or ignore social-distancing recommendations as a political statement. There is nothing unmanly about wearing a face mask. It is a sign of compassion for our neighbors.

Of course, there will be those who behave recklessly, and the media love to show crowded bars. There is little that can be done to prevent individuals from making foolish choices, but we cannot let these acts deter us from doing the right thing in our own choices.

In the end, it will fall on each of us to take responsibility for our own actions in minimizing the risk to our own health and the health of our neighbors. We must each consider our own situations and determine the level of risk to which we are willing to expose ourselves. If our immune system is compromised, we should not go to places where we will be exposed to many people. We recognize, of course, that no amount of precaution will eliminate the risk entirely, as long as COVID-19 exists.

But no matter how we transition back to normal life, there are a couple of undeniable truths that we must accept. First, no matter how long we wait, the virus will still be here, and we will have to live with it until a vaccine is available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other epidemiological experts have repeatedly told us that the purpose of the Stay at Home order was to flatten the curve, thereby spreading out the cases of COVID-19 so that they would not overwhelm our medical capacity. Flattening the curve was never intended to reduce the number of cases. By spreading out the cases, however, we can ensure that every infected patient receives the medical care that he or she needs, and outcomes will be optimized.

Second, no matter what level of intervention our local governments choose to take, the responsibility for making this work will fall on each of us as individuals. We know that under every scenario, including the governor’s Badger Bounce Back plan, it is accepted that an increase in cases is inevitable as we begin to interact more. The goal continues to be to prevent a surge that will overwhelm our medical facilities. 

When these inevitable local outbreaks occur, the state will provide assistance in aggressively tracking and testing anyone who came into contact with an infected individual. We will isolate those people and contain the outbreak. We are already seeing this strategy implemented around the state.

This does not mean that I am callous to the suffering that some individuals and families will doubtless endure during the coming months due to the virus. Our goal must be to minimize the number and the severity of those cases, but we must deal with the medical and epidemiological reality that stopping the disease is impossible at this point.

No one should interpret the state Supreme Court decision to mean that the danger is past and that we can go back to living our lives as we did before the pandemic. If we do that, we risk causing a spike in cases that will strain our medical system, and people will die needlessly. It is absolutely imperative that social distancing continue to be part of our lives.

Our businesses need to follow the CDC guidelines as they reopen. These guidelines should be used in performing an objective evaluation of every facility to determine the areas that could lead to a spread of the virus. The free market will punish those establishments that ignore accepted safety recommendations. Nobody should patronize a business that makes them feel unsafe. Additionally, owners risk having their businesses shut down for a period if there is an outbreak among their employees.

I hope that we can move forward with caution, but without unwarranted fear. Our community members have consistently taken care of each other in the past, and I know we will do so now. I refuse to believe that our citizens will do the right thing only if they are forced to do so by the government. To borrow a phrase from Lincoln, we must be guided by the better angels of our nature.