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The Rhode Island Reopening


As much as I dislike the governance of Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island’s Wall Street Democratic governor, I think she has done a very good job on COVID-19. Some of this is personal–while the future is not bright at all, her administration has worked very closely with state unions, including my own, to minimize the pain as much as possible and bring workers into the planning process. But more importantly, she has stressed science and testing. Rhode Island’s testing far outpaces any other state. As of today, Rhode Island has conducted 108,000 tests for every million people. The second best state is New York, with 74,000 tests for every million. The national average is 36,000. Sure, being a small state makes this somewhat easier, but it’s not as if Delaware or Vermont is anywhere near Rhode Island. Yes, our death rate is fairly high, but we are an intensely densely populated state with a lot of poverty between New York and Boston. So it could be a lot worse.

Moreover, while Rhode Island is reopening, it is happening very slowly. As of today, restaurants can have a few outdoor tables (hard to see why it would even be worth it for most of them). You can now enter a clothing or bookstore, so long as it has an outside entrance, you have a mask, and there are very few people in the store. Raimondo may be a centrist technocrat, but being a centrist technocrat does make one focused on data, which is what one wants in this particular situation.

I lay all of this out because when I was reading about the state’s reopening plan, I was somewhat alarmed as to what is expected to come. The governor has a few metrics for the reopening stages. We are presently in Phase 1. It is clear that what has happened in this shutdown is that she has no illusions that we will “defeat” this virus and is planning for significantly more cases with the belief that we are just going to have to live with this thing for a good while. For example, she will consider moving to Phase 2 so long as less than 70% of the state’s hospital beds are filled. It’s only 30% now and has never even been close to 70% on any given day, meaning that she’s moving ahead even if things are worse than have been at any point so far. She will consider moving to Phase 2 if there are consistently less than 30 new hospitalizations a day and back if there are consistently more than 50 a day. We have only reached 50 hospitalizations on any given day once and 30 a few additional times. She states that she fully expects hospitalizations to go up and just wants to keep it under control, willing to move ahead a phase if they are doubling only every 30 days or so.

This is all quite a bit more responsible than many of the states. And yet it is starkly different than the rhetoric that many of us are engaging in about never leaving your house until this is over. For those of us with a lot of privilege, that actually might remain possible if you really commit to it. But those without privilege are not only going to be forced into the public, the state admits they are going to get sick and maybe die. But what are you going to do, especially without federal leadership in paying people to stay home?

That ends up being the question. We can rage at Trump all we want to. But it is what it is. At best, he and McConnell control the government until January. They don’t care whether you live or die and they don’t care if the states have to slash all services to the bone. In fact, they want the latter. So in this real world, what is a governor to do except get the state’s ducks in a row on managing this, have a strong testing regime, and then reopen the state as safely as possible, even while knowing it is not actually safe?

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