Once upon a time, a visit to the neighborhood hair salon was an invitation to slow down, close my eyes, and savor the surrounding conversations as shared secrets spilled out like so many snips of hair falling to the floor. I miss the scalp massages and the spoken intimacies, but I can live without it for awhile longer.
We can all live without a visit to the salon or barbershop for the moment. Manicures and pedicures are nice but not essential, same with workouts at the gym, where patrons share equipment and locker rooms that are petri dishes of germs. Dining out has always been one of life’s great pleasures for me, but please, don’t suggest we meet at a local restaurant anytime soon. Even knowing we would be seated 6 feet apart from the strangers at the next table, I lose my appetite at the very thought.
Count me among the many who are not ready to emerge from shelter. The evidence shows it is simply too early to sound the all-clear.
There is an unresolved tension between elected officials who want to open up the economy and public life as quickly as possible and public health experts who warn that weeks of sheltering is not enough. More time is needed to contain the coronavirus. A second wave of COVID-19 spread, they warn, could do even greater economic harm.
The relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases here – 1,231 positive cases, 43 deaths – suggest that Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff are getting it right. They’ve struck a good balance with emergency orders that keep people safe at home while allowing visits to essential businesses such as grocery stories, pharmacies, and those offering curbside service.
Last week’s surge in highway traffic, an anecdotal but visible measure noted by various journalists, suggests more and more people are growing impatient and are heading out from home for nonessential business. So in the very week in which use of face masks became mandatory, we saw pressure building to open back up.
Gov. Greg Abbott is one of several Republican governors eager to start phased-in openings of businesses and a return to public life. His expected Monday announcement will determine who can open in San Antonio because the mayor and county judge lack the authority to veto the governor’s orders.
The Texas Tribune reported Abbott’s remarks made in radio interviews last week.
“We’re gonna be making an announcement opening so many different types of businesses, where you’re gonna be able to go to a hair salon, you’re gonna be able to go to any type of retail establishment you want to go to, different things like that, with a structure in place that will ensure that we slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Abbott told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty, adding that businesses won’t be “fully opened, but … will be opened in strategic ways, in ways that are approved by doctors to make sure we contain the coronavirus.”
Regardless of your politics, let’s hope the governor is right. Democratic governors are acting with greater caution and resisting such openings. Expect that difference to become an issue between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as the presidential campaign heats up.
What bothers me is that there seems to be little differentiation between opening, say, an outdoor construction site where social distancing can be maintained and a nail salon where many uninsured immigrant workers engage in close physical contact with customers.
Some will argue that the relatively low number of positive cases here means the risk is small. Health officials say that low number is largely a reflection of how few people have been tested, fewer than 19,000 in a county with more than 2 million people. The number of positive cases continues to build daily. Many county residents, experts say, have contracted the virus and then recovered without experiencing symptoms. Good for them, but what about others they might have infected?
Texas ranks 48th among all states for percentage of population tested, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
My guess is that we are entering a new phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, one where partisan politics infects people’s judgment. Most of us will adhere to stricter social distancing, but a growing minority will not and their behavior could put all of us at risk.
My colleagues here at the Rivard Report have performed remarkably over the past two months since the first evacuees from China arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Our offices shut down even before the Stay Home, Work Safe order went into effect on March 23. We will continue to work remotely even if others return to office work in the coming weeks. Several on our team have small children whose care is a serious concern were they to return to the workplace. Others of us have elders to care for at home.
We’ve adopted the view that this pandemic is going to have lasting effects on our lives and work, and a return to business as usual would not be prudent. Patience, we believe, is the best cure for what afflicts us.