Across the world, actions have come in stages; first, a travel ban for incoming flights from Europe, then the partial closure of the Canada-US border. First, a recommendation against gatherings of more than 50 people, then a recommendation from the president against gatherings of more than 10 and a ban against more than two in Germany.
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse by the day, with the worst-case scenario becoming increasingly dire and depressing. States are slowly shutting businesses and telling residents to shelter in place, but the direction from the government is coming at too slow a pace, too late in the process.
Politicians are too hesitant. They are not willing enough to take the jump and suffer the short-term consequences, reaping the long-term rewards for their early action. The state of Rhode Island and Governor Gina Raimondo must do something to get the situation under control in this state, and that action is clear: Closing the Rhode Island border with other states.
What does this accomplish? Raimondo only has purview over her state; she can’t control what Connecticut does, or what Massachusetts does, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Raimondo can only control Rhode Island.
As such, in order to optimize the safety of all Rhode Islanders and ensure that everything possible is being done to save their lives, Raimondo should shut the border to facilitate the attack against the virus on her own turf. This limits outside travel and makes it easy to control the situation internally. If nothing else, it prevents the spread of those already infected in Rhode Island to other states.
This seems dramatic, but so too did shelter in place warnings a week ago. In another week, where will we find ourselves? The inevitability of actions down the road doesn’t mean we should delay in taking them — it means we must take them now, when the impacts will be most beneficial and profound, to avoid the death that will follow if we don’t.
Of course, essential travel — and trade — should continue. Shutting down a border doesn’t mean shutting down an economy, and more harm than good would be done by limiting trade. Likewise, residents of Rhode Island should not be barred from entering the state.
What would this mean for Rhode Island residents who commute outside the state? At this point, most employees should be working from home; however, there should be exceptions made for the same reason that trade should not stop. Documentation in the form of paperwork from the state could prove effective in allowing out-of-state commuters to leave and return again.
The logistics of such a shutdown are difficult; state borders have no defense, begging the question of how such a shutdown would be enforced. There are similar bans on travel and action across the country that are met with similar questions: How do you make sure people actually follow this?
The answer is in treating it like a speeding ticket. There is no way to make sure no one travels between Rhode Island and other states, but there is also no way to make sure no one goes over 55 miles per hour on the highway. It is only when you are caught speeding that you get a ticket; likewise, those who are caught crossing the border into Rhode Island without sufficient reason will be ticketed.
If Rhode Island is already forcing those arriving on domestic flights to self quarantine for 14 days, there is no logic in not at least advising the same for those arriving from neighboring states.
There is too much riding on government action to not take this necessary step. It will hurt the economy, and it will degrade the quality of life for some Rhode Island residents, but it is a necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19 and, in turn, limit the loss of life from this virus.
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