Bookman: Time to spike the football on Georgia’s ‘reopening’? Recall 28-3

Our columnist Jay Bookman says it's too early to spike the proverbial football and declare Gov. Brian Kemp's "reopening" plan a success. Remember when Tevin Coleman, 26 on the Atlanta Falcons, celebrated an insurmountable 28-3 lead with Matt Ryan after scoring a third quarter touchdown against the New England Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl? Elsa/Getty Images

“The opening seems to be going very well, Brian,” President Donald Trump told Gov. Brian Kemp in a conference call this week. “I’m hearing your numbers are going down as you open. That’s a pleasant thing to hear.”

The praise had to be pleasant for Kemp, who had been harshly criticized by Trump after he decided to “reopen” Georgia’s economy earlier than even the president thought wise. And even if the state’s numbers aren’t exactly in significant decline, at the very least they aren’t showing the increase in coronavirus deaths and cases that some had predicted.

So yes, that’s good news. That’s welcome news. But while we’re talking numbers, let me throw a couple more at you: 

28-3.

I know, I know:  Still too soon. In the 2017 Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons built an insurmountable third-quarter lead of 28-3 over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and three years later the pain of watching that victory snatched away in overtime is still raw and fresh. For many Atlanta sports fans it will never go away, at least not until the Falcons return to the Super Bowl and this time finish the job. That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

The point is, this isn’t over. In football terms, it’s the end of the first quarter, and almost 1,700 Georgians and more than 90,000 Americans have already been killed in this pandemic. As a country, we have just 4% of the world’s population but 30% of the world’s coronavirus deaths, which is remarkable for a nation that likes to think of itself as the richest and most scientifically advanced on the planet. 

Up until now, we simply have not handled this well. I don’t know what victory is, but this ain’t it, and our failure to this point has been a direct consequence of not taking this opponent seriously enough.

Back in February, before the first death was recorded and when action would have been most fruitful, Trump had dismissed warnings that we might see 35,000 to 40,000 deaths. “You wonder if the press is in hysteria mode,” he told a campaign rally.

Five weeks ago, he was predicting the toll would top out at 50,000, which then became 60,000 or 70,000, then 80,000. Less than a week ago, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield warned that we would hit 100,000 by June 1, and that too now looks optimistic.

The virus didn’t go away by April, as if by magic. It wasn’t safe to open by Easter, and it isn’t a hoax created by Democrats to keep Trump from holding campaign rallies, as Eric Trump claimed on Fox News over the weekend. And while it would be wonderfully good news to have an effective vaccine by the end of the year, surely by now we’ve learned the consequences of treating hopes and dreams as actual reality. 

The virus does not care what numbers are posted on the state’s public-health website. It doesn’t take a few plays off. It doesn’t care whether the president is taking a useless, even dangerous drug to fend it off. And if every bit of good news becomes an excuse to ease our precautions, then every bit of good news is in effect opening the door a little wider for the virus, opening it to more bad news a few weeks or months later.

Wear your masks in public – that’s a far more meaningful tribute to our frontline health care workers than banging on pots or a military flyover, both because it costs you something and because it eases their burden. Listen to the experts, not to those who curry your favor by telling you what you want to hear, who urge you to give in to temptation while they themselves sit inside their safe little bubbles. Don’t fool yourself into believing that the game’s been won, especially when the cost of fooling yourself may be paid in the lives of others.

28-3.