Turns out shutting everything down was the easy part.
Events in East Asia are demonstrating that effective testing and tracing is better than doing nothing, both in terms of keeping economies open and keeping people out of the hospital, but it’s still no substitute for a cure or a vaccine. Hong Kong, South Korea and China are all experiencing their second wave, and they’re having less success tracing and quarantining than they had after the first wave. Singapore, meanwhile, has been struggling with its second wave since late April and plans to increase its testing capacity from 8,000 to 40,000 tests per day to tamp it back down. In the meantime, though Singapore is arguably less locked down than Nevada right now, only 20 percent of Singapore’s workplaces are authorized to be open.
Nevada, to be clear, does not have an effective testing program, at least not by East Asian standards. If we wanted to run as many tests per Nevadan as Singapore is currently running, we would need to increase our testing capacity fourfold.
What East Asia’s experience demonstrates, however, is that even if Nevada did everything as right as anyone’s done anything about this pandemic, both in terms of lives saved and economic devastation forestalled — and, to be clear, we haven’t — we’d still be looking at a status quo that looks awfully similar to what we’re living right now.
That’s why Nevada, like every other state and several countries, now finds itself in an impossible conundrum. How do we get things back to normal without getting a lot of people very sick when we don’t have a cure, we don’t have a vaccine, we don’t have enough tests, we’re tracing by hand, and there’s a small but vocal portion of the population who thinks masks are a symbol of obsequious obedience and we should boycott businesses that refuse to open as soon as possible?
We won’t get back to normal even if we do everything right. Even if we test, even if we trace, even if we eat our vegetables and leave the poor governor’s lawn alone, there is no path — not one — that puts most of Nevada’s unemployed back to work, reopens our casinos, our restaurants, the rest of our service industries, and our schools.
To understand why, let’s talk about our schools.
One of these weeks, I’m going to have to write about all of the welfare programs we provide under “education” spending because it’s politically easier to provide assistance to children through a school bureaucracy than a welfare bureaucracy. For now, however, we need to focus on daycare. Working parents who aren’t working from home need a place to put their children while they’re at work. Schools, it turns out, are the cheapest form of daycare (at the point of service for the parents, anyway) that most working parents have. Additionally, since most schools in Nevada are run directly by a government —
Not the government, a government. There is no singular “the” government in this country. There are local, county, state, and federal governments, as well as countless regulatory divisions, departments and agencies, and that doesn’t even touch on school districts, regional water boards, television districts, or the separation of powers between distinct branches of each government. Anyone who treats “the government” as a singular entity doesn’t know what they’re talking about and should be swiftly dismissed as an ignorant crank. Having said that, governments do have stronger, more clearly delineated avenues of control over each other than they do against any of us or any company individually. For example, Eureka County can order its employees to go back to the office but it can’t order the local molybdenum mine down the street to send its employees back into the office. Which is why…
— they’re easier to apply various controls and regulations to, bureaucratically speaking, than a day care center run out of somebody’s house. Consequently, until we figure out how to host several hundred students with uneven personal hygiene practices in a government-run school without inadvertently creating a hotspot (how’s our classroom overcrowding problem again?), most of Nevada’s workers (except those living in multigenerational families) aren’t going to have access to day care at any price because day care centers won’t be authorized to reopen.
Consequently, a lot of Nevadans who are currently working from home will have to continue to work from home for a while, and a lot of Nevadans who aren’t working from home are watching their children instead of going to work. That means, in turn, that a lot of Nevadans are buying less fuel for their cars than they used to, are eating out less during workdays than they used to, and, oh yes, are spending less on afterschool day care than they used to. The people who worked to provide those services to commuting Nevadans aren’t getting those jobs back because, until Nevadans start commuting again, those services aren’t going to be needed for a while.
How long of a while?
Governor Sisolak’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery saves “returning to normalcy,” including education, for Phase 4 (we’re currently less than a week through Phase 1, remember). The American Enterprise Institute’s National Coronavirus Response: A Roadmap to Reopening, which is referenced frequently in the Nevada United plan, suggests schools might be able to reopen in Phase 2, albeit with significant social distancing controls. The National Governor’s Association’s Roadmap to Recovery: A Public Health Guide for Governors, which is also referenced frequently in the Nevada United plan, saves reopening the economy in general for Step 9 (out of 10).
Put more concretely, the Nevada Department of Education created a Path Forward Plan to provide support to Nevada’s schools during the pandemic. As part of that plan, a Re-Opening of Schools Committee was formed. The timeline in NDE’s announcement of the Plan indicated the committee would start meeting in May. As I write this, the Re-Opening of Schools Committee is not listed on NDE’s online list of committees and the committee has no meetings listed on NDE’s calendar of public meetings.
That’s the state bureaucracy’s passive-aggressive way of telling you that it’s going to take a while.
One essay that’s been passed around certain Libertarian circles is I, Pencil, which tells the complicated and detailed story behind making a single graphite pencil from the perspective of an individual pencil. The end of Max Brooks’ World War Z, meanwhile, tells a similar story but upside-down. The first bottle of root beer since zombies first swarmed the Earth at the beginning of the book can’t be produced until a laundry list of ingredients — molasses from the United States, vanilla from Madagascar, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and so on — can be safely produced and distributed again. Both tell the story of how the mundane is made possible through loosely coordinated individual action organized in a web of interconnected dependencies. Remove a single dependency, make it impossible to fulfill, and that otherwise mundane product ceases to exist.
Schools and daycares are obvious dependencies, but they’re certainly not the only ones we’ll find. There will be more.
Shutting down the economy was easy — all we had to do was tear the web down. Now we have to build it back up, one strand at a time with no blueprint of how to do so, all while a disease that’s lethal enough and debilitating enough to terrify anyone who actually faces it directly slices at the web at random.
It’s going to take a while.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].