For local businesses, April is the most off-season of months, so when the pandemic struck, as bad as it was, there was a collective sigh of relief that it didn’t hit in August.
As weeks roll by, however, the reality has sunk in that getting back to normal will be less like a light switch and more like a crawl. A vaccine is years away, and only now are the widespread testing, best practices to serve the public and personal protective equipment — what is needed to reopen — coming online.
So what’s the path forward? It’s important to remember that the rationale for the shutdown was so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed. But the curve is flattening, not only in hot spots but also here in the valley, where there never really was a spike. In fact, we’ve had only two new cases in Carroll County in two weeks, bringing the total to 31.
We also know with increasing certainty that the morbidity rate is skewed toward elderly populations and those in congested areas, like apartment buildings in poor neighborhoods, nursing homes and meat-packing plants.
Data show that for healthy people under 70 the odds of surviving COVID are very high.
Plans to reopen are ongoing at state and local levels. The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce has convened a stakeholders group that is meeting weekly (by Zoom). It is a work in progress, but the gist is that over the next two to three months, the business community will gradually return to normal — or, more precisely, the new normal with a variety of virus safeguards.
The phases call for such activities as outdoor dining and recreational sports to resume not long after Gov. Sununu starts to lift the stay-at-home order, expected soon. Hopefully, by midsummer, even lodging establishments will be open.
Local stakeholders’ recommendations will dovetail with the state’s, with one exception. As we know, the White Mountain National Forest has shut down parking lots at trailheads, shutting out healthy, active people from enjoying the outdoors where there is plenty of space for social distancing, even as campgrounds are allowed to host grocery-shopping campers.
It cannot be stated strongly enough that reopening won’t happen unless the curve of infection remains flat, and businesses and organizations conform to new standards of public health.
One factor that could work to the North Country’s advantage is our low rate of infection and less densely settled population. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the poster boy of COVID crisis management, is considering opening up “low-risk” areas in upstate New York in mid-May. And except for a few cities in the southern part of New Hampshire, most of the state is at low risk.
We urge local officials to push Gov. Sununu to follow Cuomo’s lead, designate us as as a low-risk area and allow us to follow our own guidelines.
Many locals have shared strong sentiment about red-and-white license plates, but the truth is, places in our own state, like Manchester, have higher infection rates than some leafy suburbs in Massachusetts.
Looking ahead, one solution for lodging establishments is to serve only those coming from low-risk areas, regardless of what state that is.
Because we will live with the virus for the foreseeable future, we will eventually have to come to terms with the trade-off between public health and our economic well-being, the deterioration of which leads to other public health issues and, at worst, the unraveling of our social fabric.
Each year, 35,000 Americans die in car crashes, yet we still drive to the store. Yes, a certain number of people will die from the coronavirus, and we will learn to accept it.
Sweden has become a COVID-19 petri dish, where everyone except the most vulnerable populations is conducting their lives and businesses as they see fit.
Civil society, as we know, is not sustainable if the standard is zero tolerance for deaths caused by COVID.
There are constitutional and civil liberty issues that should not be taken lightly regarding stay-at-home orders and the authority imposed over us by the state or federal government.
That said, any plan to go forward first must rely on being provided with ongoing information about local infection rates, and we must be prepared to shut down if they spike. That’s the counterbalance.
Given that, as long as the curve remains flat and we behave responsibly, the time is upon us to aggressively move to reopen.