Coronavirus

State Needs More Than a Reopening Date

Opinion

To date, Gov. Charlie Baker has enjoyed strong amounts of support from the business community and state residents in general when it comes to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, a recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University/WGBH News poll showed that 84% approve the governor’s handling of the crisis, and 85% back his decision to extend the stay-at-home advisory and closure of non-essential businesses.

But behind those numbers is growing restlessness and, in some cases, defiance. And it’s all justified. Thus far, the governor has erred on the side of caution — some have even taken to calling him ‘Cautious Charlie’ — but people are tiring of caution. They want action. They want a plan. They want the state open for business again.

They see it happening in other states — and soon, they’ll see it right next door in New Hampshire and Rhode Island — and they want to see it here.

Beyond closing the state’s non-essential businesses — while leaving giant retailers like Home Depot open, creating a demoralizing state of haves and have-nots — and ordering people to wear masks, Baker has provided little real leadership on the question of when and how the state’s economy will reopen. And groups like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce are starting to demand some answers.

The GBCC and other groups want answers on childcare — those facilities have been ordered closed until the end of July — as well as on public transportation, testing, tracing, and more. They want more than a target date for reopening the economy — they want a plan. The governor’s doesn’t have one yet, and this is a big reason why there is more than a whiff of defiance in the air.

This lack of a plan when most all other states have one is just one example of a lack of real leadership from the Baker administration to date. Here are some others:

• The Soldiers’ Home. This is one of the great tragedies during this pandemic and Baker’s greatest failing thus far. To date, roughly 30% of the 226 residents who were living at the home when the first resident there succumbed to COVID-19 have died. The situation has stabilized, but only because there are many fewer residents. Yes, most of the residents are very old, and nursing homes have been especially susceptible to outbreaks. But a number of lapses enabled the virus to sweep through the Soldiers’ Home like wildfire.

Baker claims not to have known about the outbreak until March 29, by which time several veterans had died, and he further said he was “appalled” by the lack of reporting by the man he appointed to lead the facility, Bennett Walsh — who has no experience running a healthcare facility on his résumé. Meanwhile, Walsh disputes the governor’s accounts, saying he provided daily updates to state officials.

Who’s telling the truth? In some respects, it doesn’t matter. There has been a massive failure of leadership on this matter, and it starts at the very top.

• Golf. To those who don’t play the game, this seems trivial, but golf is a good example of Baker being stubborn and not using basic common sense. There are dozens of businesses that would love to be called ‘essential’ and reopen for business, but for most — restaurants, hair salons, tattoo parlors, and even most retail stores — social distancing is a real issue.

But golf? Most courses boast more than 100 acres, and the busiest of courses might have 100 people on them at given point. That’s one acre per person. It’s easy to social distance, people get exercise (especially if they walk), and at least one small portion of the economy gets to start the process of clawing its way back. New Jersey and even New York are opening golf courses. Massachusetts? Maybe someday. It just doesn’t make any sense.

• His Reopening Advisory Board. The 17-member panel, named last month, is now working “three, four, five hours a day on Zoom calls” with “different verticals” to come up with a plan, the governor said on April 30. The problem is, he should have been saying that weeks before. He knew the day he shut down non-essential businesses in late March that he would need a panel like this to provide needed guidance. He waited a month to put one together, and when he did, he made it far too small and didn’t include representatives from several key sectors, especially tourism and hospitality.

And then, he gave the panel until May 18 to come up with a plan. People doing business in the Commonwealth don’t want a plan on May 18 — they want to start opening on May 18.

We’re still in the early stages of this pandemic, which means Gov. Baker still has plenty of time to show he has what it takes to be a good leader. Right now, he’s getting spotty marks — at least from us — and, overall, a grade of ‘incomplete.’

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