Recovering from the virus

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

The number of coronavirus cases in Iowa doubled over the weekend, with reports of singular cases in Northwest Iowa (Sioux City, Le Mars, Kossuth County, Carroll). These are alarms for Buena Vista County to follow all the guidelines from state and federal authorities: Stay home, avoid people outside your immediate family, disinfect contact surfaces, try not to touch your face, and wash your hands frequently. On that score, local residents are doing pretty well. Stores have closed (The Storm Lake Times office is closed to the public, unfortunately), public buildings put off limits, bars and restaurants are buttoned up but for carry-out.

Gov. Kim Reynolds was slow to the draw but over the past several days has stepped up the state’s game, most significantly by shutting down schools. The governor has taken a measured approach, saying on Sunday that she did not see the need for a shelter-at-home order. She is trying to keep essential businesses open and supported. Governors have been told by President Trump that they are in charge, and Reynolds has taken his cue. She needs to be a strong leader who responds quickly and communicates clearly. Reynolds has been doing that over the past week. The legislature has suspended its session and vested sufficient authority in the governor to respond.

President Trump is another matter entirely. He downplayed the coronavirus since January, failed to sequester the tests and protective equipment needed, and makes a daily display of petulance and grievance in his public comments. It is left to the Cabinet and bureaucracy to manage the response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first stepped into the leadership vacuum to pass the first virus response package that included federally subsidized sick leave. The House and Senate struggled over a stimulus package last weekend, disappointing markets, but remained in earnest negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin throughout. Congress knows it must deliver as markets continue to crash and people lose their jobs. They crowed and kicked up dust and argued and positioned themselves but ultimately will be forced by markets, if nothing else, to cooperate on a practical path forward. These will not be the last relief packages with the national and world economies heading into a recession that could be deep.

State and federal legislators must provide immediate relief that first goes to workers and families, that strengthens our public health systems, and that extends aid to critical industries to keep supplies flowing and paychecks rolling. Every relief effort should be viewed through the prism of protecting public health and family incomes. General Motors and Boeing deserve consideration; aid for cruise lines flying under foreign flags or stock buybacks deserve strong questioning.

Congress will have to revisit its efforts as problems mount. Those should include attempts to strengthen the health and income safety net with permanent sick leave, universal health care and income guarantees to workers cast off by the so-called “gig” economy.

The pandemic has pointed out that most of our medical supplies and drugs are actually made in China, with whom we are locked in a trade war. There is a cost to allowing our basic national security interests to be farmed out to a cheap labor supply. We are paying the price today. We need an honest discussion about redomiciling those industries.

At some point, we will revisit what our new normal is.

We cannot continue in a virtual lockdown indefinitely. President Trump said he will re-evaluate in a couple weeks. He peddles in fantasy, no doubt, but at least he is starting a needed conversation. It would appear that we need to move to a strategy that isolates the vulnerable to keep them from contamination, while releasing the grip on daily life. That call probably will be left with Reynolds. Other nations like China may provide us guidance on how to restart our economy and resume our lives. But that conversation has to take place even while we are in isolation trying to blunt the virus’s spread.

We need to keep our heads about us and calculate risks responsibly. Reynolds appears to be doing that. It behooves each of us to follow her advice and stay home for now. Stay out of the stores. Get what you need and not more. Think of others. This trial will end, but things won’t be the same after we get over the hump, whenever that is. We are reminded again that we are one nation, one community, and that we have responsibilities to each other. That’s how we move forward safely into a different reality that is fundamentally American.

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