We can’t be held hostage by coronavirus

It has all the makings of a good scandal.

A powerful governor on a private conference call that was not open to the public. A surreptitious recording of the call by a participant, leaked to the media. An admission that actions being taken by that governor will make something worse. And, of course, the subject of the call being COVID-19.

It took no time flat to spin this straw into the gold of provocative headlines, mouse clicks and online ad revenue.

“Texas governor admits dangers of reopening state on private call with lawmakers,” read the headline at the Daily Beast, a prominent liberal online news outlet. 

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged in a private call that reports indicate ending lockdown down is dangerous,” said Business Insider.

There are plenty more where that came from, trust me.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on May 5 his plan to reopen the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

So what did Gov. Abbott say in this now scandalous phone call? Did he really just admit that he is intentionally opening up the state and knowingly putting lives at risk? Is his political career over?

Abbott was speaking to a group of state lawmakers and members of Congress from Texas, and was briefing them on the Texas plan for reopening the economy. That plan began last Friday, allowing retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to reopen, as were museums and libraries. However, these facilities were only allowed to operate at 25 percent of capacity. 

Texas will then consider a second phase of reopenings as soon as May 18, which would allow businesses to expand their capacity to 50 percent. This step would happen as long as two weeks of data from the initial stage of opening did not show any significant outbreak of COVID-19. 

“How do we know reopening businesses won’t result in faster spread of more cases of COVID-19?” he asked himself while speaking on the call. “Listen, the fact of the matter is pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening—whether you want to call it a reopening of businesses or of just a reopening of society—in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase and spread. It’s almost ipso facto.”

He continued, “The more that you have people out there, the greater the possibility is for transmission. The goal never has been to get transmission down to zero.”

Thus, Abbott confirmed that reopening the economy would lead to a rise in cases, and hungry journalists rejoiced.

But stop here for a moment and seriously consider what he said, and ask yourself why this should be viewed as remarkable in any way. Who on this planet thinks that a reopening of society won’t lead to more cases?

Of course it will. The more people interact with one another, the more something like this will spread, and the more cases there will be. Any time you place a population of more than 300 million people on lockdown quarantine, you are going to stop any number of things — including COVID-19 — from spreading. The moment any of those people start resuming even the simplest of normal tasks, spread will increase.

This is true in every single state, including here in Maine. We all know that. Gov. Janet Mills knows that. My 2-year-old daughter probably knows that.

So I ask you, are any of those headlines appropriate? Was Abbott “admitting the dangers” of reopening? Did he say that ending the lockdown is dangerous?

Nowhere in his comments did I see him say that. And regardless of whether or not he did, are these same outlets suggesting that Mills, or any other governor, is doing something “dangerous” by reopening their states slowly?

I’m sorry to be the one to have to break this to everyone, but life is dangerous. We can not be held hostage for a year or more just to try to achieve the greatest amount of physical safety that is possible in a world of viruses. Reopenings will indeed cause more people to get the virus.

The key to our response to this, as we were told at the very beginning by healthcare professionals, is taking precautions that will help slow the spread of the virus to ensure that our healthcare system does not get overwhelmed, and we have unnecessary deaths due to the unavailability of people, medicines or medical devices.

That can be achieved while carefully reopening society, and that must be the plan moving forward.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.