Everyone wants to know: When, oh when, will it go back to normal?
As some governors across the United States begin to ease restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, hopes are soaring that life as Americans knew it might be returning. But plans emerging in many states indicate that “normal” is still a long way off.
White House adviser Dr. Deborah Birx says social distancing will be with Americans through the summer. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warns of a “different way of life” until there is a widely available vaccine, maybe not until next year.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says: “There is no return to yesterday in life.”
From the beginning, the pandemic forced impossible choices: physical health or mental health? Economic well-being or medical safety? Most states joined the world and turned the dial down hard, closing shops and restaurants, factories and schools. Asking people to largely keep to their homes. Now, the dial is beginning to inch in the opposite direction.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp is pushing one of the most aggressive reopening plans in the United States. Barbershops, gyms and nail salons were allowed to reopen Friday, and dine-in restaurant service and movie screenings were freed to resume Monday, despite warnings that, without sufficient testing, the state could see a surge in infections.
Even there, though, life was far from normal. Patrons went to restaurants with X’s on some tables, chatted across the room to one another and gave orders to servers whose faces were covered by masks.
In Alaska, restaurants are keeping logs with every customer’s name and phone number, in case they’re needed for contact tracing.
Draft guidance for reopening from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention provided more evidence that :normal” would not be on the menu, at restaurants or anywhere else. No break rooms for employees and no field trips for school children, the guidelines recommended. Children should eat in their classrooms, and congregants should stay 6 feet apart in church.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan laid out a phased reopening. First small shops could open, and some outdoor recreation could resume, then perhaps restaurants and bars. Phase three, which the administration cautions it has no realistic time frame for reaching, would allow larger social gatherings and high-capacity bars, restaurants and entertainment venues could reopen.
You know, the stuff that two months ago might have just been called “city life.” Even with strict rules in place, it’s a delicate dance, as Dennis McKinley learned this weekend.
He had planned to open two of the three branches of his restaurant, The Original Hot Dog Factory, for dine-in service in the Atlanta area. He reversed himself Monday after getting about 40 calls from politicians, community leaders and customers urging him to keep diners out.
“Ultimately, The Original Hot Dog Factory can’t make it without the community’s support, so I felt it was important to hold back and wait,” McKinley said.
What he calls community support, economists might refer to as confidence. Economies run on that, especially the American one, in which consumer spending accounts for 70% of all activity. When people are scared or times uncertain, they tend not to shell out.
“After an initial pop to growth, when businesses do reopen, it’s going to be a slog until there’s a vaccine,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of cautious people and therefore a lot of cautious businesses.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death. And while many point to a vaccine as the surest path to normal, public health experts see another way that’s no less daunting: millions more tests, 100,000 or more health workers to track and isolate those exposed to COVID-19, and a seamless data network to coordinate the effort.