By Cleat Bohecker
We tried reopening. It didn’t work. Shut things down again now before it is too late.
As a tourism community, we had an opportunity to play a leadership role here for the audiences that look to us, and instead of doing the right thing, we failed to live up to the demands of the moment.
By promoting a false sense of competency and readiness, we’ve inspired others to travel more, go out more, socialize more, and generally take more risks. The COVID-19 graphs of our neighboring states, and the states where many of our visitors come from, grimly track the impact of this experiment in magical thinking.
In Texas, new case graphs were relatively flat until the end of May. A month later they’ve jumped from just over 1,000 new cases being reported per day to over 3,000 new cases being reported per day. California went from under 2,000 to over 4,000. Arizona went from just over 400 new cases a day to over 2,000. Utah went from under 200 new cases a day to over 400. The Southeast is exploding in new case reporting. Think about that when you’re getting to know your tourist tomorrow and you ask them where they’re from.
I’ve heard some people dismiss this as saying, “that’s just because there is more testing now.” If that were true, we’d see similar curves for all states. But we’re not seeing that. States the hardest hit at first, like New York and New Jersey, are still reporting fewer and fewer new cases, because they’ve learned to take things seriously. Where states weren’t hard hit at first, we’ve had an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others.
Instead, like teenagers, we thought we’d be invincible and would live forever. We thought bad things only happened to other people. And here in the West, our celebrated individualism, antipathy to federal power, and disparaging views of easterners have been manipulated to lead us, like the rats of the Pied Piper, directly into the crosshairs of an epidemic.
The writing is on the wall, and while Moab has not exploded in cases yet, it’s a ticking time bomb.
The hospital says they are ready. What does that mean? That means they’ve got lots of gloves and masks — even while you and I are having to go to work everyday without enough of them, and half or more of our customers don’t wear masks and many of them seem completely unconcerned about the health and safety of those who work so they can enjoy a vacation.
Being “ready” for health care administrators means they feel they can efficiently process your dying body from your job to the ICU and the funeral home, while being spared the stress and embarrassment of being caught “unprepared.” Unless you’re personally prepared to kill yourself, or your neighbors, these assurances should not calm you. They should outrage you.
These are the assurances of homicidal maniacs, uttered calmly from behind clean desks by polite, soft-spoken people wearing ironed suits and sitting in chairs in air conditioned offices. They’ve let profits and tax revenues become more important to them than the lives of their citizens, employees, and neighbors. True evil, here as ever, is banal. It is not a particular lust for killing that drives the death toll higher and higher. It’s the disappearance of empathy from our collective civic consciousness.
Magical thinking extends to the Southeast Utah Health Department and our town’s political leadership. They let businesses reopen because they came up with “protocols” and promises they said they’ll follow. Where is the follow-up to see that that is actually being done? Do you always believe your kids when they say they’ve done their homework? Do you sell insurance to new hotels without getting a report from the fire inspector?
This lack of inspection and enforcement is what employers want because they know they can’t get enough PPE for all of us, they know they’re not able to sanitize work surfaces often enough for our jobs to be safe, and they know that even if they tried there’d be little point, because so many of their employees live in cars parked right next to each other, or in densely packed houses once built for single families but where today it’s not uncommon to see four or five renters living together.
A great pressure exists to pretend we’re not all extremely vulnerable, unsanitary and unprepared. We all know it is a big joke. It’s funny now. But it won’t be when you and your coworkers start dying.
Business owners are willing to risk our lives because they know that if they don’t reopen, their businesses might not survive. They’re between a rock and a hard place, and it’s a shame we haven’t done more to help small businesses. But there is never going to be on this planet a small business that is more important than the lives of any of its employees.
That’s not a lesson anyone is going to learn from history because we never learn from history. How many uranium miners and mill workers have died of cancer around here, because when they were young and macho everyone was too cool to wear a mask at work.
How many of their employers were similarly lackadaisical, never had enough masks on hand for them to wear, and never seriously tried to mandate wearing them? How many uranium mine and mill owners did the bare minimum necessary to satisfy the public health service without asking follow-up questions or looking deeper into the early reports about the risks of breathing in radon?
That history is still living alongside us, but apparently we’re ignorant to its teaching.
Bohecker writes from Moab.