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Whitmer needs to fully consider restaurants’ proposal

We’ll begin with this statement: We do not believe you can negotiate with a virus. Unlike most any other public policy issue, COVID-19 cares nothing for our political compromise or bipartisanship, and only science can tell us what will truly keep us safe.

That said, one major weakness in the state and federal government’s coronavirus response has been a lack of definition about what “safe” really means. We understand that cases, hospitalization rates and deaths going up is bad and the inverse is good, but no one has ever clearly articulated what threshold might trigger action. How bad do things have to get before we shut things down again? How good before we open? Is there some data point that triggers something in between?

The government has shared lots of data, which is useful and appreciated, but never said exactly what the data should say for us to expect change.

In the absence of such clear guidelines, we are left — at least seemingly — waiting on the whims of whoever occupies the White House or the governor’s office to tell us when we can get back to work. No matter how hard the president or governor works behind the scenes to make his or her decisions based on science, the lack of benchmarks leaves the government open to criticism as “tyrants” and “dictators,” single-handedly controlling the situation.

It also adds to confusion and uncertainty that cause real harm in people’s lives and stifles the economy.

So we are intrigued by a recent proposal from Michigan restaurant advocates to link the tightening and loosening of indoor dining restrictions directly to specific data points.

We don’t know if the data the restaurants want to use is the right data or if their benchmarks are the right benchmarks, but imposing some sort of clear guardrails would bring some level of certainty and hope to what has been a full year of confusion and worry.

The restaurateurs’ proposal at least seems like a good starting point for a discussion, and a proposal made in good faith about how we can best balance the real harm caused by a downed economy with the real harm caused by the pandemic.

We hope Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s team is looking at the proposal carefully and, if that’s not the right set of metrics, that she tells us why.

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