The biggest fallacy in the increasingly bitter battle over the coronavirus response is that public health and economic health are competing interests.
They are one and the same. If people keep becoming infected and dying of COVID-19 by the tens of thousands, there’s no chance of sustained economic recovery. If we can’t get the economy started, we’ll soon run out of resources — financial and emotional — to protect the public health.
The trick is restarting the economy in a measured and responsible way that doesn’t bring deadly new waves of the pandemic.
It’s a challenge that requires trust and coordination among all, qualities that seem sadly beyond our reach in this time of extreme partisanship and tribalism.
In Hawaii, we’ve done a good job of relatively quickly reducing the new COVID-19 case count to nearly zero because of our island isolation and ability to limit people coming in.
But as we move to the next phase of restarting the economy, the political ambitions and factional animosities of local government leaders are starting to show as they snidely snipe at one another.
Public confusion and anxiety grow daily as our governor, Legislature, county leaders and congressional delegates — all Democrats or controlled by them — appear to circle in separate orbits.
Local political scuffling is only magnified by the train wreck in Washington.
The coronavirus is a national problem in need of strong leadership and coordination at the federal level; it’s exactly for crises like this that we have a Federal Emergency Management Agency and a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But President Donald Trump has effectively taken these key agencies out of action and let the states struggle on their own while he runs from the hot seat with ever-changing strategies and spigots of misinformation as his reelection nears.
The president assigns governors the responsibility of managing the pandemic, then takes pot shots at them on Twitter and cheers on gun-toting protesters against social distancing mandates initially recommended by his administration.
As Trump blames Barack Obama, the World Health Organization and honest scientists, a desperately needed national strategy for safety standards, testing, tracing and procurement of medical supplies is not in place, causing a loss of public trust.
Which brings us to another fallacy — that it’s up to the president or governors to decide when the economy reopens.
The people have the ultimate say on whether they feel safe coming out of isolation to participate in the economy, which polls say a sizable majority don’t. We can’t be forced to go to restaurants, malls and movies or get on airplanes when we don’t feel safe.
If political leaders don’t stop stoking divisions instead of building trust for reopening, we face a nightmare scenario of not enough reopening to rekindle the economy, but plenty enough to rekindle the virus.
Reach David Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.