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Opinion Soon all of us will be in the same position as Georgia

Ashley Weiser, the great-granddaughter of the Varsity founder Frank Gordy, promotes the restaurant in downtown Atlanta on Tuesday. (John Spink/AP)

Georgia recently began the slow process of reopening its economy, permitting people to dine in restaurants, get a haircut, go to the gym or, bizarrely, get a tattoo. Other states are set to join them. Texas, for example, is also beginning the slow process of coming out of economic deep freeze on Friday, May 1.

Many infectious disease experts are aghast, while a few are supporting the move. Covid-19, a disease unknown a mere six months ago, has taken the lives of almost 60,000 people in the United States and sickened at least a million more.

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Yet it seems increasingly certain many of us will be in the same position as the residents of Georgia within the next few weeks or months.

Yes, people — by large majorities — tell pollsters they support the continued strict social distancing that has shut down huge swaths of the economy and tossed tens of millions of people into sudden unemployment. But the same polls often find limited patience for prolonging the restrictions. In one recent poll released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 1 in 6 said they had no more than a month of strict social distancing left in them. The largest share (37 percent) said three months from the day they were questioned was the limit. The shutdowns are increasingly difficult — economically, emotionally and logistically.

We want to shelter in place, but as the weather has gotten warmer, people are less likely to stay home. Almost a quarter of Americans visited with family or friends last week, up from 1 in 5 the week before, according to a poll conducted by Axios and Ipsos. This past weekend, beaches in Southern California and parks in New York City were crowded with people, many of them less than six feet apart. “Quarantine fatigue,” researcher Lei Zhang told NBC, describing a fall-off in social distancing efforts observed via cellphone data.

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It’s easy to scold, but we are also social animals: People are people. Combine our abrupt isolation with sudden economic fears and life-or-death health worries, and you’ve got a petri dish of misery.

Parents are struggling with both child care and ludicrously inadequate online classes. Work-life balance, for those lucky enough to be able to work at home, is all but defunct. Internet network provider NordVPN says Americans lucky enough to still have jobs and ones that likely permit them to work at home, are putting in three more hours a day. (I don’t doubt it. I wrote this sentence at 11:44 p.m.) People are desperate to blow off steam.

Unemployment, at a decades low earlier this year, is now on track to break records in the other direction. And job loss is a very bad thing. Work doesn’t just support us economically, it gives our lives meaning, too. Long-term unemployment — that is, unemployment lasting longer than six months — leads to lifelong lower earnings and a higher death rate. It’s associated with increases in drug use, child neglect, depression and suicide. For a child, if a parent is unemployed for a lengthy period of time, it often means poorer long-term educational outcomes.

So alcohol sales are soaring. In hard-hit New York City, domestic violence-related murders are significantly above the numbers at this time last year. (There was another one earlier this week in nearby Jersey City, N.J. A pregnant restaurant owner was murdered by her partner who went on to commit suicide.) Calls to suicide and mental health hotlines have increased by multitudes.

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It seems almost certain that pressure to reopen will grow. But it’s likely that the perfect world, the one where we can reopen with full confidence that we will all be safe, will not exist — at least not within the time frame that we need. Thanks to President Trump, we are leagues behind on where we need to be to responsibly begin the process. We still lack anything resembling an adequate number of diagnostic tests or protective masks. Individual state efforts cannot fully compensate for a failed federal response.

We will almost certainly know within a few weeks whether Georgia was simply a New York City waiting to happen — or if by luck of geography, lack of density or simple timing, it is leading the way to get back to normal life. But make no mistake: Soon we will all need to take Georgia’s potentially fatal gamble.

The D.C. restaurant Little Sesame could have closed because of coronavirus but is using its kitchen to serve the city's most vulnerable instead. (Video: Shane Alcock/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Bill Gates: Here are the innovations we need to reopen the economy

James Downie: Governors need more than hopes and dreams to reopen states

Kathleen Parker: Reopening doesn’t mean a return to normal

Dana Milbank: Georgia leads the race to become America’s No. 1 Death Destination

Norman Leahy: Virginia’s experience in the 1918 flu epidemic could help it decide when to reopen and how

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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