Reopening from the pandemic is the right goal, but not all reopenings are created equal. The decisions by St. Louis city and county officials Monday to modestly loosen business restrictions is a rational approach — in contrast to the dangerous moves by officials in some Republican-controlled states to simply drop all restrictions immediately.
St. Louis County is raising (but not completely lifting) capacity caps on public gatherings, and the city and county both are allowing bars and restaurants to stay open an extra hour. Most importantly, no reopening plans here are lifting existing mask orders, which have been instrumental in the recent declines in coronavirus cases.
Those restrictions shouldn’t be loosened further until there is clear data showing the numbers will continue dropping. Health officials should be ready to sound the alarm and demand renewed restrictions should cases spike.
No one should expect Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature to be helpful on this front. Like their GOP counterparts around the country, they are going in exactly the wrong direction, seeking to hamper the ability of local officials to make the adjustments they need to make to contain the virus. The Republican-sponsored House Bill 75 would limit local decisions regarding restrictions on public gatherings at businesses. Health officials could order such restrictions for just 15 days. After that, city councils or county commissions could extend the restrictions, but only for 10 days at a time and then only with supermajority votes of the bodies.
The Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi, meanwhile, have dropped even the pretense of taking the pandemic seriously, ditching their own policies on masks and business restrictions and throwing their states wide open — over the strenuous objections of their own health experts.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said it is a matter of his office “getting out of the business of telling people what they can and can’t do.” In other words, abdicating his duty as a leader during a health crisis.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says lifting restrictions would “restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans.” But should this deadly threat bounce back in his state, livelihoods and normalcy would be further out of reach than they are right now. In essence, both governors are playing a game of coronavirus roulette. They have earned President Joe Biden’s rebuke for what he called their “Neanderthal thinking.”
President Donald Trump likened the coronavirus fight a year ago to a war effort, and what these short-sighted GOP politicians are doing is akin to laying down their arms just as the enemy is finally on the verge of surrender. It’s beyond foolish; it’s an outrageous rejection of science and failure of leadership that has infected their party as surely as the virus has infected America. If the enemy regroups, no one should forget the GOP’s role in letting that happen.