Opinion: Daily Journal

Agonizing: Cooper’s response to pandemic inconsistent, clumsy, hurtful

Gov. Roy Cooper (with state health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, background) at a July 2020 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)
Gov. Roy Cooper (with state health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, background) at a July 2020 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)

Agonizing.

These lockdowns, mandates, and suppressions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Logically inconsistent, clumsy in their application, and impossible to enforce.

We’ve become prisoners of this virus, without imminent hope of reprieve. Potential treatments are enmeshed in politics, thrust into a media culture replete with influencers and pundits spewing confusion and toxicity.

We wear masks, stay six feet apart, and commit to washing our hands as if it was the latest trend in personal hygiene. 

Each day we face the world as it is, and life as it has become. We become agitated, impatient, depressed. It didn’t have to be this way.

The lack of leadership, at all levels, is stark, brazen in its incompetence and contraction.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, in March ordered a statewide lockdown in response to the pandemic. It was part of a three-part plan, he said then, to “flatten the curve” and to prevent overwhelming hospitals with patients. Cooper in May enacted a modified Phase 2, opening restaurants, breweries, hair salons, tattoo parlors, and other businesses at limited capacity. 

But the state, as of mid-August, has remained stuck in an excruciatingly abstract Phase 2, per Cooper’s orders. Myriad businesses, including bars, gyms, bowling alleys, and theaters, are closed, until at least Sept. 11, when Cooper will revisit the issue.

News outlets in all their iterations each day repeat pandemic numbers first reported by the respective health departments. Media report daily cases with little or no context, offering samples accounting for a couple of days. Comparing and gauging the imminent and provincial threats, for the average reader, become an unnecessary challenge. Rather than tracking outbreaks and addressing them specifically, Cooper and health officials flash imprecise graphs, their relevance cloudy at best.

Outbreaks in nursing homes. Wear a mask.

In meat-packing plants. Wash your hands.
On college campuses. Wait six feet apart.

Cooper talks about getting the percentage of positive cases below 5%, which health officials characterize as some sort of epiphany. Still, whether we’re constantly testing enough people to justify that percentage is unclear. Rinse and repeat.

The equivalent of 400 million jobs have been lost world-wide, 13 million in the U.S. alone. Global output is on track to fall 5% this year, far worse than during the financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund,” The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

An overly blunt and economically costly tool, these lockdowns. 

“We’re on the cusp of an economic catastrophe,” said James Stock, a Harvard University economist who, with Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina and others, is modeling how to avoid a surge in deaths without a deeply damaging lockdown, the WSJ writes.

Cooper — and other governors, too — has become adept at transferring pain. The virus has taken lives, but it has also taken the metaphorical life from us. No weddings, no funerals. Many churches haven’t opened for in-person services.

We’re suffering, though not necessarily from the virus. We’re hurting mentally, spiritually, physically. Parts of the economy, such as home sales, are surprisingly strong. Small businesses — music venues, bars, gyms, restaurants — are going bust.

People, those who make a habit of it, are still exercising, though many have turned away from gyms. It’s an unfortunate consequence of evolution. Take something away, and people adapt, they move on.

North Carolina’s gyms have been closed since March. Bars, too.

RunRepeat, a website specializing in shoes for athletes, in a recent survey found that people are actually exercising more, but, Americans, in particular, were the least likely to return to their gyms upon reopening (50.16%). Nearly half of all gym members globally will not return to their gyms upon reopening (46.67%), and more than a third of all gym members globally have already canceled or are considering canceling their memberships (36.57%). 

Mina, the Harvard epidemiologist, told the WSJ, “the U.S. could have chosen to prioritize the economy, as Sweden did, and accept the deaths, or it could have chosen to fully prioritize health by staying locked down until new infections were so low that testing and tracing could control new outbreaks.

“Most of the U.S. did neither. The result was ‘a complete disaster. We’re harming the economy, waffling back and forth between what is right, what is wrong with a slow drift of companies closing their doors for good,’” Dr. Mina said.

But, by all means governor, please continue to keep us safe.