State Representative Christine Palm (Courtesy of Christine Palm)

Opinion: “Normal was never good enough”

No one wants to live like this. No business wants to remain shuttered. No doctor or nurse wants to see this much death. And no reasonable elected official wants to prolong the agony of the shut-down. But amid the cries to re-open our state, we must find a balance between our financial interests and our physical well-being. After all, with innovation and hard work, over time the economy will rebound. But lost lives are lost forever.

Now that more Americans have died of COVID-19 in two months than were sacrificed in the two decades of the Vietnam War, it is time to take a big step back. In the rush to re-open before the virus is truly under control, it’s critical to remember a few things:

  1. This is both a public health crisis and an economic one, and they are inextricably linked: until people are safe, they cannot return to being either consumers or workers.

  2. The people already on the front lines of this epidemic, and not company shareholders, will continue to be put at risk.

  3. The voices that matter most right now – and for the foreseeable future — are experts in medicine and science. When the stock market crashes, healthcare personnel don’t opine about why it happened or how to turn a bear market back into a bull. In this crisis, business interests should not override the advice of healthcare experts.

  4. What happens when stay-at-home bans are lifted too early has historic precedence: in 1918, infection rates of “Spanish Grippe” soared after local government officials ignored warnings and allowed parades, baseball games and other public gatherings in such cities as Denver, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Hartford.

Finally, as we study and discuss ways to “get back to normal,” it is absolutely critical to admit that “normal” was never good enough. The long-standing cracks in our healthcare system, our purchasing and distribution methods, our inequitable compensation, have busted wide open. We ignore the evidence at our own peril.

This is not the time to overlook young adult earners (Millennials and Gen Z), working families, older adults and the poor. Rather, it’s time to rebuild our economy in a new way, and to shore up our defenses so that if this ever happens again, we’ll be better equipped to meet it head-on. To do that, we need to take the time to understand how to move from selective profitability (which makes our economy weak) to widespread prosperity (which strengthens it).

Like most of my colleagues, I now spend my days on constituent case management. Every day I hear from people who are desperate to get back to work, to pay their bills and put food on their table. I know that Unemployment Compensation checks and loans to small businesses have been late in coming and to some feel grossly inadequate.

And yet even among people who are struggling, I’m hearing a deepening understanding of what it means to be part of a community.  The people of our towns say it best, and so I quote a few of their emails here (anonymously, to protect their privacy).

“I hope as a country we will be able to go forward to a new way of justice and compassion and not back to how it has been.”

“I’ve been disheartened by the residents pushing to ‘get back to normal’ because so many minimum wage earners are women and people of color. Pretty easy to play roulette with someone else’s health, life and family.”

And finally, “my daughter’s boyfriend just had two more patients die on his floor this morning from COVID. Fake crisis? We don’t think so.”

Christine Palm is the State Representative for the 36th General Assembly district covering the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam. 

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