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Editors Notebook: Questions to answer before we can reopen safely


Peter Osborne

Over the years, I’ve dealt with a lot of impatient executives – people who want that report NOW or don’t understand why this agency, partner or employee can’t work faster.

We now have COVID-19 imploding business plans, causing customers to decide not to spend money, and forcing people to figure out how to angle their laptops so people can see them on a videoconference. It’s easy to see why the Delaware business community is itching for the governor to reopen the economy.

I was reminded of the challenges we face in assessing whether it’s time as I watched the 1987 movie “Broadcast News” the other night. “You crossed the line,” Holly Hunter shouted at William Hurt toward the end after he staged a shot. “It’s hard not to cross it,” Hurt responded. “They just keep moving the little sucker, don’t they?”

That line is constantly moving because we have two different inputs to balance. Is it safe? I’m sure many people will regret a too-quick decision to reopen if it results in a friend or loved one getting very sick or worse. But going too slow could cause many businesses to fail. Good people are making the decisions for Delaware but it’s agonizing and, frankly, we don’t have any control over what others outside our borders are doing.

New data comes out every day. Many states are reopening faster than we are, but none of us know whether they’re going to see an uptick in positive cases and deaths as a result. We went to press with a story about the spike in positive COVID-19 cases in Sussex County but a decrease in hospitalizations – which seems to be one of the new key metrics – that couldn’t incorporate the impact of at least one more day of data.

The little sucker just keeps moving.

The challenge is that the “data” isn’t pointing us in a clear direction, and it feels like we’re changing the metrics to help us make the case for getting the economy cranked up again.

I’m feeling these days like we’re playing this big game of “Survivor” and sliding into fluid alliances. Three different people said “We’re not New York” this week in response to questions about reopening, feeling like we’re basing too many decisions on what a city ravaged by the virus is doing.

But I have some questions that I hope will be considered as we move toward reopening.

  • Aligning with New York may be a good idea as it relates to purchasing consortiums, but isn’t it more important to make sure we’re aligned with Maryland mayors and Gov. Larry Hogan as it relates to a consistent approach to opening beaches that are next to each other?
  • When we discuss back-to-work programs and opening businesses, are we talking enough about the problem of bedroom communities in Pennsylvania (Chester County is getting hammered by the virus) and Maryland and even New Jersey?
  • Have we thought enough about the devastating impact to many high school seniors who have had their senior years ripped from them and have no idea what (or where) the first semester of their freshman year will be like? Can’t we come up with something better than virtual graduations that strip out the emotion of this milestone? Isn’t there a scientific solution that might include testing/screening before the students enter the stadium?
  • Are we making progress at all on addressing those virus incubators called senior-living homes?
  • At this point, isn’t it table stakes to say that everyone’s first concern are their people and customers? Do we really need to hear that they’re urging everyone to wash their hands, etc.?
  • Are we thinking about whether state lawmakers should address the federal government’s woeful lack of action in terms of providing “hazard pay” to hospital staff and first responders?
  • Should we be talking more – as some pundits are – about whether companies that put out press releases to highlight their philanthropy should be disqualified from receiving tax benefits that might come from that donation? Delawareans deserve a lot of credit for all the great work they’re doing, and there are great examples of Delaware companies that are listing themselves as donors without disclosing amounts, but isn’t there a risk that some cynics in the audience wonder what’s driving the donation? And does it really matter so long as the donations are being made? I’m not talking about challenge grants here and this obviously wouldn’t apply to a foundation or nonprofit, but what if those who want to announce amounts also said in an aside that they weren’t taking the tax deduction too. That would get my attention.

Perhaps you can tell that I’m looking for some inspiration. When I first started here a little over a year ago, we tested a feature called What’s Inspiring Me and this seems like a good time to revive it.

We asked you to tell us about the books you are reading, the movies or TV shows that got you thinking differently, the podcasts you turn to when your brains needs recharging, the music that raises you up.

At a time when many of us are stuck at home and looking for something to inspire us, this seems like a great time to start sharing. You can do that at  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DBTInspire1

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