On Saturday afternoon, customers at Short Pump Town Center in Henrico County walked the mall’s beautiful outdoor grounds with a sense of ease compared to a few weeks ago.
Shoppers clutched bags full of clothing purchases, enjoyed samples of gelato and sipped drinks on the patios of restaurants with restored indoor and outdoor dining as part of Virginia’s Phase 2 reopening. Data from the U.S. Commerce Department released on Tuesday showed retail sales were up 17.7% in May, a welcome respite from two months of economic malaise brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our friends, family, neighbors, shops and restaurants create the heartbeat of our community,” read an Instagram post from Short Pump Town Center leading into the weekend. “We are excited that we can once again come together, to see our community flourish and thrive. Welcome back.”
That kind of message should breed optimism, but not a false sense of security. Virginia’s stay-at-home order is over. The pandemic is not and the virus still is present within our borders. Across the U.S. and the globe, there are several cautionary tales of reopening amid COVID-19.
In North Carolina, hospitalizations hit a record-high over the weekend. Twitter video from a WRAL-TV reporter showed large clusters of people frequenting streets and businesses in downtown Raleigh, without wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
Hours before that tape, Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, mentioned the possibility of reinstituting a stay-at-home order if concerning virus data grew worse. And unlike Virginia’s statewide mask order inside buildings, North Carolina only has a handful of localities, such as Durham and Orange counties, with some form of a face covering mandate.
In parts of Florida, the reopening process has stalled. Miami is delaying the reopening of bars and nightclubs, a staple of the local economy. Mayor Francis Suarez, who successfully recovered from COVID-19 in March, told the Miami Herald shutting down again is a “last resort” if hospitals were in a crisis situation. The next few weeks should bring more clarity.
“We continue to see data that’s indicating that cases are going up,” Suarez said on Saturday, according to an ABC News report. “That still doesn’t incorporate Memorial Day weekend, and that still doesn’t incorporate the protests, which we know have congregated thousands of people in our city, many of which are not wearing masks.”
In Arizona, hospitals are grappling with higher levels of coronavirus patients. The Arizona Republic reported that 931 people visited emergency rooms for COVID-19 on Sunday. Just under half (464) were in ICU beds.
Like North Carolina, videos of packed bars and clubs in Scottsdale, Ariz., have turned heads. According to Fox’s Phoenix affiliate, people ages 24 to 44 are among the age groups in Arizona with surges of COVID-19 cases.
And even in China, which instituted a 76-day lockdown around its coronavirus epicenter in Wuhan, a new cluster of cases has emerged in Beijing’s largest food market. After nearly two months without community transmission, along with the use of sophisticated apps to trace COVID-19, Chinese media outlets reported the virus was found on a cutting board of an imported salmon business.
CNN added that Beijing responded with more lockdowns in 11 nearby residential areas. No one can enter or leave, and essential items are being delivered to homes. Across the city of more than 21 million people, almost 200 booths assessed the health status of 76,000 people on Sunday alone.
Virginia has been fortunate to see declining COVID-19 positivity rates in recent weeks. After months of insufficient testing, options were plentiful in the Richmond region this past weekend, from the parking lot of the Health The activities and the behaviors are the focus of our attention—the mallgoers who comply with or defy the order to use a face covering in a department store or public restroom; the protesters who have spent hours chanting in close proximity to hundreds of people; and the businesses making real efforts to create safe spaces, versus others taking a more lax approach.
We believe U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when he recently said, “We can’t shut down the economy again.” But if we’re experiencing public health issues in May and June as we reopen restaurants, beaches, and brick-and-mortar retail spaces, what will happen in the fall as schools, events and office spaces attempt to get back to normal?
We must embrace the basic protective measures to keep the economy going—and the coronavirus at bay. Good choices today increase the chances that later on, our state and nation won’t have to face another round of tough decisions.