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To Reopen or Not to Reopen: That is the Question

by Teresa MI Schaefer, PHD

To reopen, or not to reopen: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The fogged glasses of outrageous face coverings, Or to take arms against a sea of technological troubles, And by opposing end them? To reopen: to risk; No more quarantine; and by a social-distanced misstep

to say we end The audio lag and the fixed stare of a screen That tele- is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To reopen, to risk; To socialize: perchance to hug: ay, there's the rub; For in that embrace what ills may come When we shuffle off this mortal distancing, Must give us pause.

~by Not William Shakespeare

This mash-up of Hamlet’s renowned speech, tells of the current existential crisis that governments, businesses, and individuals are contending with around the world. The deep philosophical reflection Hamlet found himself in as to life and death is not unlike that which we face in negotiating a governance that respects and honors life as well as the need to stabilize and let live the economy.

Do we live to make a living or make a living to live? If the metaphorical question of the chicken and egg and the primacy of one over the other has ever left you puzzled, the question I pose may similarly mystify. Or perhaps it baffles you: How could this be? Why are we asking this question? Why are we risking life over money? Or perhaps, the economics of feeding your family and lighting your abode without a revenue source compel you to go out, to see this question as not bearing a choice.

These are not simple ponderings. The complexity of our challenge is quite sorely exposed in a question offered by Haley Sweetland Edwards* writing for TIME magazine. Ms. Edwards asks, “In exchange for our jobs, our livelihoods, the ability to pay our rent, how much death are we willing to bear? How many tens of thousands of lives are we willing to sacrifice so that the rest of us can work and live outside our homes?”

We have all sacrificed a great deal in this COVID period of living. There will be more sacrifices to come. But which or what?

Living amidst a pandemic that has changed the world, that has changed each of us, has been no simple feat. Making the decision to “reopen” will similarly challenge us. I write this not with answers but with an invitation to be thoughtful, to modulate our emotions, and gauge the impact of our behaviors, as the outcome of our choices has implications far broader than the self.

As we move to make this decision, let us respect the safety of our neighbors – next door and around the world. Let us move judiciously with protection of our life and our need to make a living – the protection of the lives of others and the need for them to make a living. Each life has value. Not more. Not less, than any other.

Hamlet chose life. His dichotomy was of one being, one construct as to that being – to live or to die. The conundrum of reopening is of two constructs seemingly pitted against one another. We surely must choose life to make a living. But what if that living kills us? If we do not make a living, how do we live? How do we keep our children and families alive?

WHEN we shuffle off this mortal distancing, Must give us pause.

*Edwards, Haley Sweetland. “There Are Sensible Ways to Reopen. Then There's the US's Way.” Time, Time, 14 May 2020,


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