On March 24th, I first began a draft of this post. It seemed to probable then – and it is true now – that Trump would effectually abandon a social distancing or stay-at-home approach, and encourage business as usual to resume promptly. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling in Wisconsin v. Palm has brought that abandonment to Wisconsin (at least to much of the state absent local health restrictions) in both law and practice.
A few remarks —
Tump may describe the novel coronavirus as an ‘invisible enemy,’ but it’s literally an impersonal enemy; people who think of themselves as ‘warriors,’ etc., will not gain added immunity. Human conduct may slow the speed of this pandemic, but people’s feelings about themselves offer no protection against infection. There’s a lot of childish, magical thinking about infection; nature will take its toll regardless of mere feeling.
This pandemic will bring economic loss and hardship even if businesses re-open. Some but not all demand will return. For many establishments and laborers some but not all will mean business failure and joblessness no matter what Trump says. See Consumer Sentiment, The Reopening Debate Will Turn on Consumer Demand, The Finance 202: American consumers aren’t ready to shop again, even as states reopen, and Again – Consumer Sentiment.
Long after businesses re-open, unemployment is likely to remain at Great Recession levels through next year.
Young and Old. It makes sense that younger, healthier people want to go out, to clubs and concerts. The Tavern League has wanted everyone back yesterday. The claim that patrons should do whatever they want in a bar will not satisfy others who will be near those younger people in grocery or big box stores. The legitimate concern is that club-goers will spread infection in places far beyond clubs. Photographs of bar and club patrons with no masks, packed together celebrating, will only infuriate residents who are older and taking precautions against infection.
Communities that have town-gown conflicts will see an exacerbation of those tensions.
There are also educational decisions that await Wisconsin communities in the fall, that may be the subject negotiations between Wisconsin’s legislative and executive branches.
Universities may re-open in the fall, but one cannot say with confidence that they will stay open for the ’20-’21 academic year. In Wisconsin, for most System schools (except perhaps UW-Madsion and UW-Milwaukee), decisions about the fall semester are almost certainly going to be made at the System level. Wisconsin has long since passed the point of significant local university control. What a local chancellor wants will be far less influential than what the Regents will want.
Unlike universities, K12 education is compulsory for children, making decisions about K12 programs the most sensitive of all public policy decisions. People will forgive almost anything before they’ll forgive the injury or loss of a child. It won’t matter that officials – administrators and or school board members – are otherwise fine people. All those warm feelings will wither if there’s injury to minor children. Officials who have handled other controversies will find this responsibility an order of magnitude greater than anything they’ve handled before. Some districts will have leaders who rise to the moment; other districts will (almost certainly) fall short.
There’s no less enviable role than that of officials who will have to exercise authority over others’ children during a pandemic.
Universities and K12 programs opening in the fall will need protective equipment, testing devices, and organizational discipline greater than these programs have ever before needed (as their number of students is so much larger than during any past contagion).
Writing now in May (with a few months yet to go), there does not look to be a single community in Wisconsin prepared for a return of university, K12, and business life in the fall.