- - Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has extended her stay-at-home order until May 15, which will exacerbate the total disruption of Michigan’s economy and workforce. Rather than forcing the entire state to shut down because of the highly concentrated area of COVID-19 threat, we should be safely opening up Michigan’s economy on a regional basis and limiting activity where we now know the predominant threat is.

The idea that opening up the economy is a matter of choosing economic benefits over saving lives is simply fallacious. We can do both at the same time. The essence of America is that there are risks associated with freedom, but that we trust citizens to be smart and safe while exercising their God-given rights.

As we speak, businesses large and small are already demonstrating a capability to resume operations in a way that takes necessary safety precautions and adheres to social distancing protocols. Individuals have likewise learned how to adapt to new realities and protect themselves and their families.

Moreover, a dramatic jump in unemployment also results in a number of health problems. Harvard Economics Professor Gregory Mankiw has looked at unemployment rates and its effects on behavior. He notes that each one-point increase in the national unemployment rate is associated with 37,000 more deaths, among other things we know of, such as increases in domestic violence and suicides.

We also know that the COVID-19 threat is primarily with the older population, and it makes sense to focus our public health strategies on mitigating the exposure of vulnerable individuals. Dr. Scott Atlas, former chief of neurology at Stanford University Medical Center, has explained that the proper policy is to target isolation to the group at most risk, such as residents of nursing homes.

His recent article in The Hill explains that opening most workplaces and small businesses, with some restrictions on large-scale gathering, “would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence” and would end up saving lives.

One need only look at the news stories of people waiting in lines for food to recognize that our current trajectory is not sustainable in the long term. We know that in Michigan 1.2 million people have lost their jobs in the past six weeks. Many of these will have lost their health insurance. Our rural hospitals are threatened with bankruptcy and are laying of staff due to the governor’s restrictions on elective surgery.

We must save our small businesses in Michigan and the workers who depend on them to make a living. The restaurant that has been in the family for generations will soon be closed, along with a myriad of service and construction businesses. Single moms no longer can afford to feed their children as they have lost their jobs. Think of what socio-economic group is bearing the burden of this shutdown. Some occupations can indeed work remotely using Zoom or other technology. This is not possible for many manufacturing and service workers. It is beyond time to allow people to responsibly restart their lives and small businesses with proper health practices top of mind. In America, we can be smart, safe and free.

• Tim Walberg represents Michigan’s 7th Congressionaal District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gary Wolfram is the William Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy and Director of Economics at Hillsdale College.

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