By Stephen Knight
Everywhere we go, we see or hear “We are all in this together.” For the first six weeks or so of the coronavirus lockdown, that expression would have been accurate. But as this slow strangulation of the state and national economy continues, that is becoming less and less the case.
This column has stated repeatedly that Governor Lamont has done a good job handling this pandemic. And he has, but it is becoming evident that he has become so risk-averse that he risks suffocating what is left of what was once our economy. If the State of Connecticut was in economic trouble before the second week of March, and every indicator showed that it was, then he just has to find ways to get us “reopened” before the medicine kills the patient.
There are several inequities exacerbated by the governor’s inability to get creative with his approach to “reopening”: 1) who is taking the brunt of the pain; 2) where the shutdown needs application and where it doesn’t; and 3) the inconsistency of who is “essential” and who isn’t.
First of all, pardon me for losing my sunny “We Can Do It” spirit, but what we are beginning to see is that we are all not in it together. Yes, ordinary people are trying to keep their spirits up, and ordinary people are helping others in extraordinary ways, but the economic burden is not, by any means, falling equitably.
Have you perhaps taken note recently that all the rules are being made by people that are still working? Have you taken a look at Governor Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, the one that operates in secret, the one that is calling the shots on when businesses can reopen? Not a single one of them has missed one paycheck since March 1st — if ever. As far as I can see, only two of the 48 members (Oops! 47 members — the Commissioner of the Department of Health has been fired) represent the industries most affected (CT Restaurant Assn., CT Lodging Assn.).
The “Main Advisory Group” consists of eight healthcare big shots. They don’t have any “skin in the game.” Why would they advocate reopening the economy? Then there are nine members of the Education Committee, none of whom represent one person not getting paid. And ten more members of the state bureaucracy, all collecting their paychecks right on time.
Secondly, why does every element of the shutdown apply to every town in the state? Have you looked at the stats? As of May 11th, 89% of the “confirmed” cases were in just three counties. 5% of the cases have occurred in the state’s three easternmost counties. 34% of the deaths have been in Fairfield County alone, while 5% have occurred in those same eastern counties. Why, may I ask, should a restaurant in Woodstock be completely shut down just because one in Westport must be? Why is a barber in Stonington forced to close (27 cases) just because one in Stamford is surrounded by infected people (2,927 cases)?
Lastly, the definition of “essential” is completely arbitrary. Landscapers are essential? God bless ‘em, I’m glad they get to work, but why is getting my lawn cut more “essential” than getting my hair cut? WalMart stays open, but Wanda’s Gift Shop has to close? I get that we have to eat, so ShopRite stays open. But Sliders the restaurant can only sell takeout. Every lawyer in the state is deemed essential. Really? Don’t get me started. Aren’t most of the courts closed anyway?
Like all of you, I have been a loyal soldier in the fight against Covid-19. I have obeyed all the rules like everyone else. I said, “This is new for everyone. We have to give them support so they can figure out what to do. We must all pull together, and we’ll all come out of this okay.”
But the government edicts are beginning to wear thin, and the inequities are beginning to show through. In an effort to make everyone “safe,” state government is crippling the economy all of us depend on. Many of the good, hardworking people who have borne way too much of the pain because of the jobs they had when this began may not have those jobs when this is over.
At some point — and we are coming to it pretty darn soon — we will have done irreparable harm to our economy. And that translates directly to irreparable harm to those people. We most certainly do not want to look back at the permanent human devastation caused by our overly cautious approach and have to admit: “Well, we got rid of the wasp’s nests … by burning the house down.”
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.