Gov. Brad Little did the hard thing this week. But it was the right thing. We applaud him for it.
In response to the growing community spread of COVID-19, he has issued a stay-home order that restricts all but essential travel, mandates social distancing and closes nonessential businesses.
Little’s order will cause a great deal of economic pain, but it won’t be anything like the economic impact and sheer mass of human suffering that would have occurred if he had delayed this decision further.
This is not just a problem for big cities in far off places. Blaine County, about a two-hour drive from Idaho Falls, now has the highest number of confirmed cases per capita in the nation. We are at a high risk of becoming a hotspot as well.
There is a confirmed case in Bonneville County, but don’t think to yourself, “There’s only one here, no big deal.” Tests have overwhelmed laboratories. They sometimes take many, many days to come back. Because this disease is so transmissible, there could be dozens or hundreds of cases here — we just don’t know.
Now it is important for our community to follow Little’s order, to express our common strength by remaining apart. Stay home if you’re sick. Stay home if you’re healthy. Stay home unless it is impossible to avoid leaving, or to engage in some outdoor exercise away from other people.
If you defy Little’s order and continue to engage in nonessential travel or large public gatherings, you are placing others at risk. If you don’t stay home, you are increasing the risk to your grandmother and grandfather, to your mother and father.
You are risking nurses and doctors, who we will rely on for months to save the lives of those who develop severe complications, and who are terrified at the moment as they brace for an influx of cases amid a shortage of protective gear and resources for treatment.
The economic pain resulting from the requirement to stay home is massive. Unemployment claims rose 1,200% from the previous week. It is the responsibility of our federal representatives to address this.
The $2 trillion economic bailout package is a good first step, but it will not keep us going for all that long. Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Mike Crapo, Rep. Russ Fulcher and Sen. Jim Risch need to be prepared to vote for more, better-structured bailout packages.
This condition will not pass in a couple of weeks. The exit strategy to this lockdown will likely include lots of regular testing for the entire population — testing capacity that will take time to roll out — to quickly identify and isolate new cases, and quickly track down everyone they’ve had recent contact with to isolate them as well. It may involve widespread use of protective gear such as gloves and masks — equipment that is presently in short supply even for doctors, nurses and paramedics. Once new cases have fallen, and once sufficient testing capacity and an effective contact-tracing system is in place, there can be a slow transition back to something resembling normal economic life until a vaccine can be deployed.
So our representatives in Washington should be placing pressure on the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of testing capacity, protective equipment and ventilators as quickly as possible.
Until an effective contact-tracing system is in place, a massive portion of our population will remain unemployed through no fault of their own. The state government can’t provide for them because tax revenue will plummet, and the state is legally bound to have a balanced budget. Little is already ordering state agencies to cut spending in anticipation of large tax shortfalls.
The federal government will have to plug gaps in the general economy and in state budgets for a long time. It can do this by running large deficits, with the Federal Reserve buying the new debt, as it has already pledged to do. Quite simply, the federal government needs to run a deficit that is about the same size as the decrease in business investment and consumer demand throughout the duration of the crisis to keep the economy whole. And it needs to quickly distribute those funds to families and businesses of all sizes.
This will be many trillions of dollars. Let’s hope Simpson, Crapo, Fulcher and Risch are prepared to spend it.