It’s the nightmare scenario we tried so hard to avoid for months: Hospitals in Rhode Island are at capacity. As beds run out, so too will room for patients in need of care. People will die.
There is much to be said about the public health response that has so far failed to control the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. But governor Gina Raimondo must be commended for putting health first and instituting a two-week pause on bars and gyms, among other restrictions.
Further, Raimondo should be commended for putting education ahead of recreation in her newly-imposed restrictions. Bucking the national trend, the governor is keeping elementary and middle schools open, as well as some high schools.
This pandemic continues to present a host of incredibly difficult choices for governments across the country, and Rhode Island is no exception. After all, being a politician means making decisions and, in most cases, making sacrifices. This is not a perfect world; compromises must be made
By making the choice to value education more than recreation, Raimondo is recognizing the importance of in-person learning for many communities and taking public health into account.
It is easy for some to transition online — like university students, who almost universally have access to reliable internet and are rightfully closed along with bars and gyms in the two-week pause. But for others, like many high school students in Providence, moving education online could ultimately mean dropping out entirely.
This decision is not purely favoring education over the economy. Schools are about economics, too — some parents would be forced to stay home if their children were learning at home. By keeping most students in school, parents can stay on the job.
Research also suggests that schools are not significant fuelers of community spread, while bars and gyms are.
This is not to say that businesses forced to close again will not suffer. And many of the businesses that are closing, like Ripples Swim School in Bristol, will hurt students in the process.
The process is also not perfect. While some small businesses are forced to close their doors, many big box stores remain open. And organized sports will be shut down while, conveniently, the NCAA and professional sports continue to operate unobstructed.
There are other problems with the state’s public health decisions. Cases have been steadily rising for weeks and this crisis moment could have been predicted — and prevented — by implementing this two-week pause just a week or two earlier. Testing is down 40 percent, despite a clear need for more.
Raimondo and the state government should be criticized for these lapses. These mistakes will cost lives, continue to damage the economy, and hurt the education of some students who will have to stay home longer, like those in university. Because of these lapses, there may come a point when all schools must close, too.
But at the moment, no matter the motivations or previous lapses, the priorities of Raimondo and the state government are clear — education first, recreation second. Raimondo should be commended for this.
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