The rush to place blame is natural in a crisis.
Depending on the source, the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating human and economic consequences are the fault of the Chinese, the Trump administration, impeachment-obsessed Democrats, governors who either moved too quickly or too slowly to shut down their states, and profit-hungry corporations that failed to protect employees or refused to quickly retool to produce needed health care products.
All of that must be sorted out in due time. But for now, as Minnesota and other states move to loosen restrictions on businesses and residents, looking back is less important than navigating what lies ahead. How well Americans adjust to the changed world — and how much responsibility they are willing to take for themselves and others — will be critical in determining how long this nightmare will last and how many lives will be lost.
Yes, widespread testing and tracing are key. Yes, health care systems must have adequate equipment and other resources. Yet even when those needs are met, the best way to stop the virus will be to limit transmission.
During a recent trip to a Menards store in St. Paul, an Editorial Board observer saw how the behavior of workers and shoppers showed the gulf between the goals and reality of a basic recommendation called for in all back-to-business plans: social distancing.
To its credit, Menards had put a number of new procedures in place. All employees were wearing masks. An employee stationed at the door directed shoppers to “returns or purchases.” A plexiglass partition had been installed at the return counter.
To better control the traffic flow, aisles closest to the checkout area were blocked on one end with a snow fence so that those who wanted to pay could be funneled to the widest aisle, where a worker directed shoppers to specific lines. Employees all appeared to be keeping a minimum of six feet apart.
So how about the customers?
The parking lot was packed, most shoppers were not wearing masks, and most seemed oblivious to social distancing recommendations as they leisurely strolled through the store, often in proximity to other customers. And because of the way the store’s main checkouts are designed, plexiglass is not an option and customers can’t maintain more than a couple of feet of separation from employees.
The observer also visited a St. Paul Lunds and Byerlys store, where plexiglass has been installed at the checkouts and customers were directed to stay apart at the deli and while waiting to pay for their groceries. Again, however, shoppers often crowded too close to others as they searched for items in the aisles. And few wore masks.
Their apparent confidence, or remarkable lack of awareness, is disturbing. There’s still much that health care experts don’t understand about the spread of coronavirus, but the great majority agree on the need for social distancing and — after mixed signals early on — most also recommend wearing a face covering in public.
The retailers and other businesses that are allowed to operate now in Minnesota are adjusting on the fly to a dangerous and easily transmitted contagion. At least until a vaccine and effective treatments are readily available, all of us need to wake up and do our part to stop the spread.