- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2020

South Bend Tribune. May 10, 2020.

Area residents need a clear and coordinated message in a public health crisis

Living during a pandemic can bring a sense of anxiety and uncertainty.

So can confusing messages and a lack of coordination from those trusted to lead.

Here in Indiana, consider all that has happened just within the past week or so:



• On May 1, Gov. Eric Holcomb laid out a plan for reopening Indiana. “Back on Track Indiana” includes five stages aimed at getting the state back to full operating capacity. The governor stipulated that all of the guidance is subject to change and that county governments may impose stricter regulations.

• South Bend Mayor James Mueller and St. Joseph County deputy health officer Dr. Mark Fox - both of whom had stressed the week before the governor’s announcement that the South Bend area isn’t ready to ease restrictions - were disappointed. “Our residents know we’re not ready to reopen and many of our business owners have shared with me their concerns that they’re not ready to open either,” Mueller said.

Asked by The Tribune to specify the powers he says local governments have if they think he’s opening things back up too soon, Holcomb deferred to his general counsel, Joe Heerens, who spoke only in generalities - that communities can do things via ordinance or other methods.

Mueller said he’s aware of no such authority a city can exercise.

• St. Joseph County Commissioner President Andy Kostielney, who had earlier said he’d act on advice from public health officials in reacting to Holcomb’s announcement, changed course. At the video news conference Kostielney said that the county would enact no regulations more stringent than what the governor called for.

“From the conversations that we’ve had with the health department and with our health care officials, is that even though they’re disappointed the governor took the action he did, they’re not telling me that we need to remain closed,” he said.

• On Monday Mueller announced that he was extending the local advisory for non-essential travel until May 11. He acknowledged that the advisory has “no real teeth” and that he would have preferred to enact a travel watch or warning - but the governor’s plan doesn’t allow cities to enforce such a warning.

• On Tuesday, an order by the county’s health officer, Dr. Robert Einterz, went into effect. The order, which says face coverings should be worn in businesses and enclosed public spaces where social distancing of at least 6 feet can’t be maintained and requires businesses to have hand sanitizer available, was met with confusion in some quarters. According to Fox, enforcement will be handled by the health department, and driven by complaints it receives.

It’s hardly surprising that local residents looking for guidance and reassurance may be struggling to understand what they should and shouldn’t be doing. The problem is that COVID-19 and response to COVID-19 have been infected by political ideology. The result is a lack of coordination and directives that feel haphazard and all over the place.

A common refrain in these extraordinary times is that we’re all in this together. But the past week has demonstrated what happens when the message to the public isn’t a clear and coordinated one. It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re in this together, and it doesn’t help when our leaders aren’t on the same page. The polarization that has divided this country has sadly affected how we handle a public health crisis.

There are lessons to be learned here about how to react to a major crisis - about avoiding confusing messages and coordinating a unified response, to name a couple. Here’s hoping those lessons will be learned before the next crisis.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. May 8, 2020.

Gloomy U.S. economic data demands thoughtful strategy

Nobody wants the worst-case scenario for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to unfold. Still, the uncertainty of this moment in time demands proactive steps by public and private leaders.

And, they should work by the old adage, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

The bleak U.S. jobs report issued Friday illuminates the need for wise and prompt policy moves, untainted by ideological allegiances. This virus is oblivious to borders, politics or calendars. The piecemeal approach to dealing with the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic - largely leaving those strategies to the states - continues to expose the lack of a cohesive, comprehensive plan by the federal government.

Friday’s jobs report spells out the economic problems tied to the public health crisis that has claimed more than 76,000 American lives and has not yet substantially abated.

Jobs disappeared by the millions in April, a dramatic turnaround from the pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 3.5% in February. Last month’s rate stood at 14.7%, the highest it has been since the Great Depression. More than 20.5 million jobs ceased in April, the most in American history. Employers had been adding jobs for the previous 113 months, a run of more than nine years.

Indiana, Illinois and the Wabash Valley felt the hit, too. A total of 612,000 Hoosiers have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began forcing closures of businesses and services to limit its spread. Across the state line, more than 1 million Illinoisans filed for unemployment assistance between March 1 and May 2. Specific state and local jobless figures for April are due in coming weeks, but the Terre Haute metro area typically has higher unemployment rates than most of Indiana.

Signs of hope exist. The weekly number of Indiana residents seeking unemployment aid has decreased since peaking in late March. The same is true nationally, The Associated Press reported Friday.

Economic forecasters also saw paths to a rebound, with some big what-ifs attached. The San Francisco Federal Reserve estimates the jobless rate could recede to 4% by the middle of next year, if shutdowns are lifted quickly.

Simply reopening the country’s businesses and services is not the ticket to recovery, though. First, the public must be confident that their health and safety are not at risk by going to work, sitting in restaurants, shopping and gathering for events, worship and entertainment. Widespread coronavirus testing and tracing, still unrolling unevenly state by state, must become steady, and hospitalizations must continually decline.

America’s economic health improvement depends on the pandemic subsiding enough that citizens feel comfortable returning to their normal daily lives, a Harvard University economist told The AP.

Fortunately, most state governors have assembled economic reopening plans, generally placing the protection of residents’ health as the top priority. Those plans represent a thoughtful approach to securing both the physical and economic health of the people. Unfortunately, the timing and extent of the reopening plans vary from state to state. That patchwork hobbles the recovery, given that the 21st-century economy operates as a national and global network. Nonetheless, the governors’ outlines are crucial, in the absence of reliable leadership from the Trump administration.

Reopening plans by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Illinois Gov. J.B. Prizker feature different timelines. Holcomb’s “Back On Track Indiana” plan has five stages leading to a full reopening by July 4. Pritzker’s plan more cautiously targets a complete reopening only when a vaccine or effective treatment is found, or new cases of the virus stop. Both plans hinge upon the virus diminishing.

Because COVID-19 will not stop at state borders, it is up to the federal leadership to prepare a uniform economic recovery plan for a worst-case scenario. It may sound odd, but a methodical game plan for a worsening economy would reassure Americans that revitalization is possible, no matter what.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. May 10, 2020.

Schools should remain closed

With COVID-19 outbreaks occurring in places of large gatherings, such as nursing homes and correctional facilities, Indiana’s public schools are doing the right thing by resisting President Trump’s call to reopen.

Online learning is in place, and the school year is almost over. For logistical reasons alone, it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to return to brick-and-mortar education for the few remaining weeks of the semester.

While we have written in support of the governor’s five-stage plan to return to normalcy, places where children gather should be among the last places to reopen.

We can sympathize with those who are eager to get back to work and resume their normal lives, but we should not risk the lives of children in the process.

Returning to our work and recreation, as it was pre-coronavirus, will require some degree of testing the waters.

This pandemic was like nothing most of us have faced in our lifetimes, and one of the greatest challenges has been the uncertainty. As we begin lifting the restrictions, additional uncertainty concerning safety will persist.

As state leaders throughout the country begin to take small steps to reopen the economy, we respect each person’s right to decide how much risk they will take should they choose to venture out.

However, we should do so without putting children at risk.

Children rely on adults to be their guardians and to act in their best interests, and we must keep them safe until we know we can sound the “all clear.”

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