To reopen the economy, close the bars

Second, when you permit activities that are especially risky from a virus- transmission perspective, all other activities become riskier than they would otherwise be as a result. If you open bars and people take that opportunity to hold coronavirus super-spreading events with groups of friends, there is a larger population of infected people out there who can give COVID-19 to people they meet at the office, or in a supermarket, or in a small gathering at a neighbor’s home. So while reopening bars would seem to be a way to let some people go back to work, generate some more sales tax revenue, and give a frustrated public another opportunity to blow off steam, it is likely that jurisdictions that reopened their bars hurt their economies by increasing the virus spread and making members of the public reasonably more afraid to engage in a wide variety of activities seemingly unrelated to bars.

The fact that better epidemiological conditions allow you to engage in more economic activity makes it especially crazy that so many conservatives who favor a faster economic reopening have been critical of mask mandates and dismissive of private choices to wear them — even sometimes saying, as Republican consultant Alex Castellanos did this week, that masks are a social and political affectation. There are some questions about whether masks are truly necessary in some settings. But widespread mask-wearing in public indoor spaces should make congregating indoors for economic purposes less hazardous and therefore make a wider variety of economic activities sustainable.

So while aspects of the recovery are at significant risk today, there is a road map toward a faster and more stable recovery: Wear masks, especially indoors, and don’t let people conduct especially hazardous indoor activities.