Oped by Oregon State Representative Paul Evans
May 22, 2020 Published in the Statesman Journal
“God made time, but man made haste.” Irish Proverb
Oregon is a critical junction in the COVID-19 response efforts. We’ve contained the virus through statewide social distancing mandates. However, the impacts of our actions are and likely shall remain dreadful. As the threat of contagion lingers, the question becomes how we balance those realities.
For those I represent, it’s not an academic question. They include hundreds of small business owners losing money on a daily basis because they cannot operate at full capacity. I represent working families depending upon unemployment; laid-off workers uncertain if the job they left will return. And I represent people gravely concerned about their ability to survive this economic calamity, while they concurrently worry about whether their parents will survive this contagion.
We are all torn between the consequences of reopening too early or too late. Based on the conversations I have been having, I believe a strong majority of people prefer we do this right rather than haphazardly.
I agree. If we are not careful, the weight of the choices made over the past two months will pale beside the consequences of the steps we take next. Some folks believe we have already waited too long, suggesting that the present deficiencies in personal protective equipment (PPE), contagion tracing, and the lack of available testing are either excuses – or irrelevant – in the reopening discussion.
I want us to return to normal as swiftly as possible in a responsible way. As a former senior advisor to Governor Kulongoski for Emergency Preparedness, Military, and Veterans policies, a retired US Air Force officer with significant homeland security experience, a member of the Oregon Homeland Security Council, and as the current chair of the Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness for the Oregon House of Representatives – I can assure you that if we reopen before we have a sufficient PPE, a robust tracing program, or widespread testing availability – we risk making our circumstances exponentially worse.
“Alternative facts” or social media drumbeating are no substitute for the primary building blocks of a comprehensive, sustainable, and safe reopening strategy.
This is no conflict between health and the economy. Imagine a reality where hundreds of businesses reopened in haste must close again, this time without federal assistance. Imagine a reality where we gather in large groups absent disciplined social distancing and spread contagion throughout at-risk communities.
Just imagine the difference between those possibilities – and a strategic reopening that gradually brings us back to a new normal – without the health and economic devastation of a second, or even third wave of infections far worse than the one we’ve just experienced.
The past two months proved once again that Oregon is something special. Our unique blend of civic-mindedness and individual independence rose to the occasion, as we realized the stakes of our choices.
The stakes remain incredibly high, and the burden will continue to be incredibly heavy. But I know that, together, we can and will rebuild our community through this dreadful experience.