Our View: Until more is known, we should err on the side of caution




There is, of late, much talk about the cure being worse than the problem when it comes to the nation's response to the COVID-19 virus.


In the simplest terms, it's a question of whether the nation's economic health should be sacrificed to protect the nation's public wealth. In reality, it is really more of a question of finding the proper balance between those concerns, one that recognizes that economic shutdowns produce serious consequences while also appreciating the gravity of the growing national health crisis. It's worth remembering that economies come back, but lives, once lost, do not.


It's a debate that is being staged not only in Washington D.C. but in state capitols, county and city board rooms and even kitchen tables throughout the country.



Both in Mississippi and in the Golden Triangle, the challenges presented by the virus grow less and less abstract. Mississippi currently has the 12th highest COVID-19 infection rate in the country, based on confirmed cases per 100,000 resident. As of Tuesday, there were 320 confirmed cases in 54 counties, including 13 cases in the four Golden Triangle counties.


It's against this backdrop that the Starkville Board of Aldermen met Tuesday to consider further public safety measures a week after approving changes that limited operations at restaurants and restricted social and business gathering to 10 or fewer people.


Tuesday's proposal would have closed any establishments with a high "likelihood of close person-to-person contact," including but not limited to shopping centers, community centers, parks, bars, gyms and beauty salons. The mandate would have lasted 15 days so the board of aldermen could revisit the topic at its April 7 meeting.


That proposed measure closely resembles those in recent days by the city of Columbus and Lowndes County.


In a 4-3 vote, aldermen rejected the proposal, which accomplishes two things - neither of them helpful.


First, it sends a mixed message the citizens who are looking for leadership to determine the proper response to the crisis. Does the aldermen's vote mean citizens can continue to go to bars, shopping centers and other businesses as normal? Or should they exercise caution and avoid such gatherings?


Tuesday, the aldermen essentially shrugged their shoulders.


That's not leadership. It's an equivocation.


Second, the aldermen seem to have based their decision on present circumstances with little regard for what may lie ahead. They are betting that the current conditions will prevail. In this particular case, that's a dangerous approach.


The best tool we have available now is prevention.


Those who argue the board can always take up the subject when and if conditions worsen, miss the point: This virus -- largely due to it's ability to spread without symptoms -- becomes a major problem before communities even know it.


What we do now will in large part determine the severity of the crisis in the days and weeks ahead. Taking up the matter later may be akin to shutting the barn door after the cows have gotten out.


We do not minimize the hardships these precautions create for our businesses. We are a local business and feel the effects of this slowdown, but we also believe that acting in caution now may ultimately mitigate that damage later.


Some may argue that as a nation we already accept many very dangerous threats without shutting down the economy to find a cure. Driving automobiles (36,000 deaths per year), widely-available guns (40,000 deaths per year) and even other viruses such as influenza (61,000 deaths per year) come to mind. This is true.


But at this early stage of the virus, we cannot know which precautions are reasonable and which are aren't. It's simply too early to know.


Until we have some clarity about the scope and scale of the virus, it's impossible to strike the perfect balance between legitimate concerns over economic health when weighed against the serious threat to public health.


In light of that great unknown, we urge communities to take a more cautious approach until we better understand how the virus behaves.




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