With a month to go, now is not the time to give up

Stay the course.

Whether that phrase brings to mind horse racing (its first use in 1885), sailing or past Republican presidents (Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43), it’s what we all need to do right now.

We recognize this past week has been a tough one. Friday we learned Gov. JB Pritzker would extend the stay-at-home order for the state through May 30. A week before that, students — and their parents — heard the official ruling that schools would be closed for the rest of the year.

That doesn’t mean there is no good news for May. Retail stores will be allowed to fill online or phone orders through delivery or curbside pickup. Greenhouses and garden centers may open with social distancing measures in place. Some elective surgeries will be allowed and some state parks will re-open. Golf enthusiasts can finally get back on the greens.

But as one student told Hinsdale Central activities director Sally Phillip, the official word that there would be no return to school, even if expected, was sad.

What’s even more disheartening are the number of people who are second-guessing every decision the governor — and everyone else on the state and national stages — is making.

With COVID-19 deaths nationwide significantly lower than expected, some are saying shutting down the country was an overblown response. But what would the death rate be if stay-at-home orders had not been enacted, more people had been infected and our hospitals had been overwhelmed?

Rep. Darren Bailey of downstate Xenia even went so far as to file a lawsuit claiming Pritzker doesn’t have the authority to extend his emergency authority beyond 30 days. A Clay County judge agreed.

While the ruling applies only to Bailey, his attorney believes the ruling will open the door for others who disagree with Pritzker.

Others are busy purporting conspiracy theories — a response that historically has accompanied pandemics. Jews were blamed for the Bubonic Plague, Germans for spreading the Spanish flu. The 2003 SARS virus was said to be an engineered biological weapon. The COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed on everyone from Bill Gates to Big Pharma to an elaborate hoax.

Recently major media outlets seem to be scrambling to interview anyone who believes it’s time to open the country now. Some argue that we need to have more vigorous debate on this topic, that we can’t just listen to what the government and the “experts” tell us.

But much of what we’ve heard is based on the data we’ve seen so far, which measures only what the pandemic looks like while we shelter in place. No one knows what would happen if the country were opened right now. And none of the talking heads are actually responsible for the outcome if we do.

Listen closely to Pritzker at his press conferences. He’s talking less about flattening the curve — which is happening — and more about testing.

“In the face of this virus, testing is really key to everything, to everything else that we need to do to get Illinois moving again,” he said during Friday’s press conference.

Perhaps who we need to listen to most right now is Emily Landon, the University of Chicago epidemiologist who spoke so convincingly at Pritzker’s March 20 press conference.

She warned us then that this would take longer than any of us want and create even more disappointments.

“These extreme restrictions may seem, in the end, a little anticlimactic, because it’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch,” she said. “But if we do this right, nothing happens. Yeah. A successful shelter in place means that you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing. And you’d be right. Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.

“Please don’t give up,” she said in closing.

We know people are struggling economically right now. We know this is difficult and frustrating and heartbreaking time. We also know lives are at stake.

Please don’t give up. Stay the course.