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Ayanna Pressley is right. Opening the state could close more caskets

"Policy decisions that offer a false choice between public health & economic recovery will hurt our communities,”  Representative Ayanna Pressley tweeted on Tuesday, in response to Governor Charlie Baker’s plan to reopen the state.
"Policy decisions that offer a false choice between public health & economic recovery will hurt our communities,” Representative Ayanna Pressley tweeted on Tuesday, in response to Governor Charlie Baker’s plan to reopen the state.Associated Press

Start. That’s what Governor Charlie Baker calls phase one of our rush to reinstate living outside of our bubbles.

And make no mistake. We are speeding toward a setback. This is not a post-coronavirus life we are walking back into. Staying at home if you’re sick and Thermoscans aren’t enough of a precaution when we’re talking about a virus that can spread asymptomatically in a state where we are still seeing nearly 1,000 new cases and 100 deaths a day.

Don’t talk to me about downward trends in cute percentages. We’re talking about human lives. I’m with congresswoman Ayanna Pressley: The state isn’t ready to get back to business.

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"Policy decisions that offer a false choice between public health & economic recovery will hurt our communities,” she tweeted on Tuesday, rightly taking Baker’s plan to reopen the state to task.

And it will be the poor folk, the Black folk, the people of color, and the immigrants who are most affected. They are disproportionately deemed essential workers, disproportionately catching the virus, and will likely be disproportionately left out of active relief and recovery action-plans.

“What we have seen throughout this pandemic is that our communities of color and our frontline workers have been devastated by both this relentless virus and by the economic fallout,” Pressley said in a statement to the Globe. “The most vulnerable have borne the brunt on every front.”

But the economy is in danger that can’t be ignored, either. Even as I write this, I’m well aware of what COVID-19 has done to my own industry, and the devastating number of journalists out of work all over the country.

People are losing jobs. Unemployment was almost at 15 percent in April. It’s expected to reach 20 percent and stay in the double digits all year. Even folk with jobs are testing the limits of their budgets and prepping for the possibilities of furloughs and layoffs because few industries are standing on solid ground as coronavirus cracks nearly every foundation.

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For that reason, Pressley wants to see more policy and support, including emergency paid family leave, mortgage and rent cancellation, and an expanded unemployment system.

Life and work have to go on, but it has to be safe. That’s what Governor Charlie Baker is aiming for with his four-phase plan to reopen the state.

We’ve begun. Construction sites are buzzing. Churches can open if they so choose. Manufacturing is back in action. By next week, offices outside Boston will be operating in limited capacity and your hair, your car, and your dog can finally be professionally washed. By appointment only, 6 feet apart.

Still, there is much to be sorted out. Church at even less than half capacity is a lot of worshipers. As people return to work, we have but a vague look at how day care and summer camps will run. We need a strong statewide supply of safety equipment. And the onus should not fall to citizens and workers to be the whistle-blowers making sure businesses are safe.

Epidemiologists say it’s still vital to restrict your social activities outside of your household, to meet anyone outside, keep the masks on, and stay at a distance. This needs to be made clear, repeatedly. Parks, athletic fields, and beaches need distance markers.

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We need far more clarity on how to move forward before we leap out into the world again. When Baker imposed his stay-at-home advisory in April, he didn’t make it an order, as other governors had done. The next phase is his “safer-at-home” advisory. If we’re going to start reopening the state, we need safety mandates, not recommendations.

I’m sure Baker is doing what he thinks is best. He, and other state leaders, have been asked to do much of what the federal government should have.

“Our state leaders have had to fill the White House sized hole in strategic planning and resourcing," Pressley said. "I’ve appreciated the open lines of communication with the Baker Administration and applauded the decisions that have been guided by science and data not partisanship. But I need to be clear in this moment that Massachusetts is not ready to reopen.”

We can’t handle it just yet. This push to get back into the world is already bringing out the irrational.

Prime Fitness and Nutrition in Oxford ignored Baker’s plan and opened its doors already — over a month early — with only a warning and the possibility of a $300 per day fine in the future. And some North End restaurant owners want establishments open at full-capacity, sit-in diners welcome, right now.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Frank Mendoza, co-owner of Monica’s, told The Globe on Tuesday. “I worked 25 years to get where I am right now, 25 hard years. ... I would rather die than lose my business after 25 years, man.”

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And take customers down in the process? Mendoza admitted he hasn’t practiced socially distancing this entire time. No one should have to shut down their business due to this pandemic, but it’s not your right to risk lives. All this time I thought those sandwiches were so good because they were made with love. No more murder subs for me.

I get it. We’re all tired of being snails on hamster wheels at home. None of this is fair. Everyone is losing something. Some of us more than others. And we’re hurting financially, spiritually, physically, mentally, and in every way hurt hurts. But are we going to die to pay the rent? Is that the American way?

Running back into the world with no vaccine, limited restrictions, and vague plans is a recipe for more dead people.

I don’t want Depression-level devastation. But I don’t want to see any more deaths, either. It all comes down to decisions. Another month of thorough planning, the kind that involves more health care experts than money minds, could only help us.

How much is a human life worth? We put God’s name on our money but money cannot be our God. Rushing to get out? Stop.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee