The American Public Won’t Obey These Quarantine Rules Forever

A man wears a mask to prevent exposure to the coronavirus while walking past the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/ (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

As mentioned in today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, I’m trying to be patient with elected leaders who are trying to navigate their way through a complicated and dangerous new problem that requires making painful trade-offs. None of them have ever confronted a crisis like this, and none of them were fully prepared to calculate the costs and benefits of various actions to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Americans will accept the government’s request that they stay home, work from home if possible, and have their kids stay home from school for several weeks. We can all enjoy watching a lot more television and Netflix. We can live with canceled conferences, postponed vacations and weddings, and not eating out in restaurants and bars. We can accept a canceled March Madness and a delayed start to the baseball season, and uncertainty as to whether the NBA and NHL seasons will finish. We can live with waiting a few months longer for our big summer blockbusters.

(Pennsylvania, you’re pushing your luck by closing the state liquor stores.)

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But as March turns to April . . . and April turns to May . . . people are likely to grow less and less willing to stay cooped up inside. People are barely staying away from the beaches now.

Those “shelter in place” orders in place in San Francisco and being contemplated for New York City had better be absolutely necessary; it’s hard to see why doing anything outside should be barred if people are using sufficient precautions about keeping their distance from each other. It’s hard to sort out what is indisputably medically necessary and which proposals represent governors and mayors playing “more-restrictive-than-thou.”

Today New York City mayor Bill de Blasio “warned that bars and restaurants could be closed for months, possibly until September.” I’m sorry, but neither that city nor the national economy can operate with every dining establishment closed for four or five months. If we need a really intense lockdown now to prevent a longer one (with even more economic pain), let’s tear the Band-Aid off all at once. At some point, Americans will start finding the restrictions too onerous to obey.

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