Two months ago, in a remarkable show of unity, Americans obeyed the onerous request to give up their livelihood and quarantine themselves in their homes. We voluntarily, temporarily, gave up our civil liberties to “flatten the curve.” We stopped working, we stopped assembling, we even stopped going to church. We should never forget what an extraordinary infringement this has been to our First Amendment Rights.

Thankfully, the curve has been flattened. The vast majority of our nation’s hospitals were never overwhelmed. The situation was dire in a very few areas, like New York. But nationwide, not one American perished due to a lack of a ventilator. In fact, we are now exporting ventilators all over the world. Even New York never lacked for hospital beds or ventilators. Our remarkable health care system once again proved it is the very best in the world.

It’s now time to go back to work: not just to save the economy, but also to save lives. “It’s not health vs. the economy,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, “It’s actually health vs. health. There are serious consequences to keeping us shut down.”

His concern is shared by global leaders. Last week, the International Food Policy Research Institute stated that if global GDP declines by 5%, that 147 million people could be plunged into extreme poverty. Even worse, the United Nations World Food Program said it expects that 260 million people will face starvation because of this shutdown. “We could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries,” said their director. “There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.”

UNICEF doubled down on that assessment. “COVID isn’t a children’s disease,” said their chief of health. “Pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, death in childbirth; these threats far outweigh any threat presented by the coronavirus.” These are real world problems that are being negatively impacted by this prolonged shutdown.

And over 600 doctors have written the President a letter, warning that this long lockdown has created a “mass casualty incident” with “exceptionally growing health consequences.” Noting that millions of Americans are already at a “red triage level” of danger to medical problems that are NOT COVID-related, they wrote, “We are alarmed … for the future of our patients. The downstream health effects are being massively under-estimated and under-reported.” They reported that hundreds of thousands of Americans are not being treated for cancer, heart disease, stroke, and child abuse and that suicide calls have ballooned by 600%. “Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events … the millions of casualties of a continued lockdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, suicide, heart attack, stroke or kidney failure. In youths it will be called unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty and abuse.”

Gov. Kemp is looking like a genius as Georgia is seen as a model for states to safely reopen. Now, every state is following his lead. Even Europe is open again. Now we need healthy people (who do not have the previously identified risk factors) to safely return to their businesses.

Of course, the number of cases will go up as we rapidly increase our testing. Tragically, the total number of deaths will also rise. That will occur no matter what we do. The goal we should be seeking is for the daily number of deaths to go down, as well as the daily number of critically ill patients. Thankfully, those numbers are going down in Georgia, as well as most of the nation.

I also wanted to share with you the amount of monies the federal government has allocated to Georgia. So far, we have been given about $8.2B, half of which ($4.1B) comes from the CARES Act. The federal guidance is very strict: the money can NOT be used to shore up deficits created by revenue shortfalls. Instead, they must be targeted for emergency relief. I won’t list all the categories, but the lion’s share includes $457 million to K-12 education, $406 million to our universities, $57 million to HBC, and another $105 million to general education. $144 million will go to early learning, $96 million to the Administration for Children and Families, $32 million to community living, $41 million to the CDC, and $57 million to health resources and services. Another $792 million will go to Medicare, $702 million to hospitals, and almost $1 billion to transportation. In addition, $42 million will go to agriculture, $31 million to Families First, $33 million to Homeland Security, and $141 million to economic development (including HUD). All of these monies have already been allocated by President Trump and the Congress, and do not include the $3 trillion package that is being debated.

We are certainly not out of the woods. The state budget will be extremely painful … just like your budget back home. More people will get sick, and unfortunately, some will die regardless of what we do. But hundreds of millions more will perish if we don’t get back to work.

I’d like to close with a special thanks to our farmers who are – literally – feeding the world. Like our courageous health care workers, we depend on them every day. Our own former Gov. Sonny Perdue (now the secretary of Agriculture) just announced (with the president) a new $16 billion national direct aid program for our farmers. It is welcome news to a vital industry that we cannot do without.

A famous Democrat president once said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” It’s time to strap on our courage and safely get back to work.

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Dave Belton represents District 112 in the Georgia House of Representatives. District 112 includes Morgan County and the eastern portion of Newton County.

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