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Editorial: Don’t blame Carney, this scenario is all our fault

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Delaware Business Times Editor Jacob Owens

After months of lackadaisical adherence to public health guidance given by our nation’s top doctors, Delaware received the equivalent of a father’s “I’m disappointed in you” speech from Gov. John Carney on Nov. 17.

The restrictions that we survived in the spring and hoped to never see again have returned, albeit in a much less severe capacity than the 69-day period we spent under a stay-at-home order.

“I know this is difficult,” Carney said at his weekly press conference after announcing the restrictions. “And it’s difficult for me as governor to have to decide to put these restrictions in place. I can tell you I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”

Indoor dining capacity has been reduced for the foreseeable future, leading to an understandable backlash from restaurateurs who have yet to financially recover from the early months of the pandemic’s impacts.

Public gatherings have been capped at 50 people unless strict, state-approved plans are submitted. Youth sports have essentially been sequestered to in-state play, limiting the ability for AAU teams and others to compete in typical schedules and canceling most youth tournaments scheduled to be hosted here.

The mandate to limit indoor home gatherings to no more than 10 people raised some eyebrows, especially considering it would be impossible to enforce ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. The order is consistent with many other states ranging from Democratic havens like New York,  New Jersey, and Connecticut to Republican strongholds like Texas, Ohio, and Idaho. But even Carney concedes that enforcement will be voluntary.

“We’re not going to be knocking on people’s doors to see how many are at dinner for Thanksgiving,” the governor said.

Some will have you believe that the heightened restrictions are simply the result of a partisan agenda or that the coronavirus’s risks aren’t serious. Those arguments are refuted by the more than 740 families who have lost a loved one in Delaware due to the virus, compared to the worst influenza season of the last decade, in 2017-18, that killed 35 Delawareans.

To be frank, it’s bad people. The seven-day average for positive COVID-19 cases totaled more than 200 in parts of late April and early May but fell quite dramatically to under 100 in June. As of Nov. 18, they’ve climbed to a record high of about 350.

But our current predicament was entirely avoidable, and the blame falls to all of us. There is no easy scapegoat for our troubles.

As we sit around our Zoomed Thanksgiving tables this week, let us avoid casting blame on carefree college kids, reckless retirees, or mindless Millennials. Over the last two months, all of Delaware’s adult demographic age groups – young adults ages 18 to 34, middle-aged adults ages 35 to 49, and older adults 50 to 64 – have seen increases in positive cases of about 50% or more.

Whether we see health guidance as a political infringement on our rights or we’re just tired of the monotony of our pandemic lifestyles, the reality is that we’ve let our guard down and in doing so we’re letting our community down. It’s not unique to Delaware, and there is nary a corner of America that isn’t struggling to contain the virus’s winter surge. But we can do better.

Just this week I was floored to see coverage of the Ultra Music Festival in Taiwan, where 10,000 people attended an outdoor concert like we would have in summers past. The small island nation off the southeast coast of China is home to about 25.8 million people – it would be the third largest U.S. state, for comparison – and it has not seen a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 since April.

How was it able to achieve such a remarkable feat? It really wasn’t that remarkable.

Taiwan closed its borders to non-residents in March and has kept that control via preflight health checks and cellular-based monitoring for 14 days upon arrival to ensure they are quarantining as required.

It stockpiled face masks very early into the pandemic and banned the export of domestically produced ones. Companies have since ratcheted up production to 10 times what they were making pre-pandemic, ensuring a steady flow of the resource to citizens.

Taiwan has one of the world’s best contact tracing programs, connecting dozens of contacts to every confirmed case of the virus. The nation requires 14-day quarantines for those contacts, regardless of whether they test negative. Those who break quarantine face fines of up to $35,000 – and fewer than 1,000 have broken that law, according to Time magazine.

Perhaps one of the most important psychological reasons for why the Taiwanese have bought into their nation’s strict COVID-19 protocols, however, is because they’ve been through this crisis before. When SARS hit the nation in 2003, hundreds were sickened and at least 73 killed by that virus. Afterward, the government built an emergency response network to contain infectious diseases, and it successfully warded off bird flu and the H1N1 virus.

Residents became comfortable with protective habits like hand-washing and mask wearing in the aftermath of SARS, helping prevent future tragedies and quelling any dissent over the measures.

With all of the human loss and economic devastation that our nation and state have been through this year, I hope that we learn from the Taiwanese lesson, because it is very likely that we’ll be confronted with another biological threat in our lifetime.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let’s remember that we have much to still be thankful for and that we can be more vigilant in our mask wearing and social distancing over the rest of 2020. 

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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