The Case for Reopening Public Spaces
Roque Miranda '22
The social and economic ramifications of lockdowns and closed public spaces have taken an incredible toll on our country. A rise in suicide and mental health problems, unemployment rates higher than the great recession and comparable to those of the great depression , and social isolation all raise the question: was it really worth it?
There is no doubt that one of the main roles of government is to protect those who reside in its nation. Thus, it becomes very easy to brand those who want to reopen public spaces as prioritizing matters such as the economy over human life. However, the reality is much more nuanced; suicides have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic . Women, African-Americans, and Hispanic Americans have seen a 40% increase in suicides while young Americans (18-29) have seen an increase close to 50% . The suicide rate has increased so greatly in some areas of the country that in May, doctors from a California hospital reported that they encountered more deaths from suicide than from COVID-19 . This shouldn’t be a surprise; unemployment not only provides incredible economic struggles, but also deprives individuals of their sense of self-worth and meaning. To quote former Vice President Joe Biden, “a job isn’t just about getting paid, it's about your dignity.” Persevering through economic hardships is extremely difficult, a situation magnified by the pandemic, if individuals feel undignified. It is possible, however, for the economy and public spaces to reopen during the pandemic, which would protect employment, and to preserve the lives of those who are most vulnerable to the virus if safety measures are executed properly. Reopening our economy and reopening public spaces would relieve people of stress and feelings of worthlessness that they took on during lockdown. It would bring our nation back to a healthy and happy one while again protecting those who are immunocompromised.
So, how should we maintain public health as well as keep public spaces and the economy open? The assumption that lives and livelihoods both cannot be protected when dealing with a pandemic is completely untrue. Countries that implemented full lockdowns, such as the United States and Italy, were not as successful in curbing the effects of the virus compared to others such as South Korea and Iceland . Nations of the latter group implemented more targeted measures such as isolation of the sick, mass testing, and contact tracing. South Korea, a country that interacts greatly both economically and politically with China , surprisingly was able to “flatten the curve” better than most nations. Citizens were required to call a national public health hotline if they showed symptoms of COVID-19 and were accordingly directed to testing sites. If an individual tested positive, they were then put in a hospital or isolation center . Despite a small lockdown in Seoul in May, South Korea’s approach allowed for retail shops, restaurants, and businesses to remain open during this crisis . Broad lockdown orders and closures of public spaces fail to address containment of individual cases and have proven to be less effective in softening the blows dealt by COVID-19. If the United States applies the same targeted measures that South Korea implemented, we would be able to reopen public spaces, increasing happiness in our country while maintaining high standards of safety. It is essential that the United States fully reopens as soon as possible to ensure the livelihoods of hard-working Americans are protected; life and livelihood don't have to be in conflict with one another.
As stated earlier, restrictive lockdown orders, which harm the lives of every American, must be replaced with targeted safety precautions so that public spaces can reopen. Protecting the immunocompromised, implementing public health interventions in areas with high infections rates, encouraging the private sector to develop and support voluntary isolation centers, and expanding testing capabilities are all positions our policy-makers must stand by now, and in future pandemics, to ensure that public spaces remain open and that both the physical and mental health of everyone in the nation are prioritized simultaneously.
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