There’s been a lot of debate lately over how and when our political leaders will “reopen” the country. When can retail shops resume business, and which ones? When can restaurants reopen? When can schools, religious institutions, movie theaters, malls, etc., come back to life?

Well, I have news for our fearless leaders, whether they be the president, governors, mayors, health authorities or civic and community leaders: They can announce all the gradual “openings” they want, but none of it will matter, because it’s not up to them.

It’s up to us.

It’s up to the people who will actually go out and do the mingling and consuming.

When will we decide to reopen our front doors?

When will we decide it’s safe enough to go back into the world and get physically close to other people who may be infected?

People seem to forget that many of us started quarantining ourselves before political leaders decided to “announce” it. We instinctively sensed the danger. For those of us who did our research, we also saw how health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) utterly failed us before this pandemic erupted.

While the virus began to spread in late January and throughout February, our bureaucracies squandered six precious weeks dithering over COVID-19 testing procedures. If you can tolerate disheartening reading, check out Alec Stapp’s detailed timeline of this epic breakdown in The Dispatch.

Stapp, who is director of technology policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, writes: “In this crisis, the FDA bet big on a single testing protocol from the CDC and burned its ships. And when the ‘perfect’ test failed spectacularly, everyone was left wishing for a way to retreat.”

Eventually, as Stapp writes, “The FDA did the right thing when it expanded the EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) exemption to all labs and manufacturers and devolved regulatory oversight to the states. The Department of Health and Human Services did the right thing when it waived certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. But all of these actions were six weeks too late.”

“Six weeks too late” is the phrase that will forever haunt me when I look back at the devastation of COVID-19.

When every minute and every second counts, when a nasty virus spreads virtually like wildfire, it’s little consolation to hear that it took six long weeks of deadly and rampant contagion for our bureaucracy to finally “get it right.”

By then, of course, that same bureaucracy was forced to implement the draconian measures that have put us in lockdown and shut down our economy.

Our leaders will need to forgive us, then, if many of us are taking our lives in our own hands. Yes, we are grateful for your sincere efforts over recent weeks to make up for your initial blunders and combat this disease. We will continue to be in lockdown and to follow orders. But make no mistake. We know that the societal nightmare we are living through could have been prevented had our leaders moved fast enough when the disease first landed on our shores.

We are acutely aware of the weaknesses of lumbering bureaucracies when speed and resourcefulness are needed above all. And we’re especially aware that the COVID-19 virus is a mysterious, deadly and elusive target. There are still way too many unknowns, and way too many people who need to be tested.

So, while we’re glad to hear some of you may be ready to boldly and gradually “reopen” our country, for many of us, it will take a lot more information before we can feel safe enough to reopen our front doors.

For example, we’ll need to know from our local authorities: How many people are you testing every day and is that enough to make a difference? What is the best estimate of the death rate? Who will still need to be quarantined and how will you make those distinctions? How will you secure public and work areas to minimize the risks of contagion?

And, maybe most importantly, how quickly are you moving?

As The New York Times reported on April 15, “Most of the country is not conducting nearly enough testing to track the path and penetration of the coronavirus in a way that would allow Americans to return safely to work.”

Don’t get me wrong—we are devastated to see our economy crumbling and are eager to restart it. But you need to show us a smart and pragmatic plan that balances medical priorities with economic ones, and, above all, that makes us feel safe.

The ball’s in your court. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to reopen the nation.

David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.

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