ZooMontana in Billings, Mont., is scheduled to reopen to members May 4 and to the general public May 11, allowing in up to 500 visitors a day, which is 10 percent of its capacity.
This small event by a small zoo (the only one in Montana) is symbolic of America beginning a great experiment in managing the coronavirus pandemic while reopening society.
Since most of the zoo is outdoors, visitors can socially distance themselves and minimize the threat of spreading the virus.
This decision for Billings, which has a population of 109,000, will not work everywhere.
A similar hypothetical decision to reopen the Central Park Zoo in the middle of Manhattan would be disastrous. The Manhattan population is more than 1.6 million, while New York City’s is around 8.4 million. What works in one place may not work in another.
In fact, the entire state of Montana (147,040 square miles) has a population of just over 1 million. This is less than the population of Manhattan, an island that covers 22.7 square miles.
Montana has had just over 440 confirmed cases of COVID-15 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – and 14 deaths. New York City has had over 150,000 confirmed cases, with more than 16,000 deaths.
Clearly, a policy that makes sense for Montana would be a nightmare in New York City.
However, the initial one-size-fits-all approach to shutting down America was as inappropriate for Montana as reopening would be for New York City. America is a huge country, and there are many different characteristics depending on where you are and what you are doing.
Montana’s ability to make a local decision based on local circumstances is a tribute to President Trump’s move to decentralize the reopening process to the states and their governors.
Having a Washington bureaucrat decide when every zoo in America could open would be an invitation to calamity. The same would be true if Washington bureaucrats had the power to decide when to reopen every restaurant, bowling alley and beauty shop.
Christopher DeMuth made a good point in a brilliant article for The Wall Street Journal headlined “Trump Rewrites the Book on Emergencies:”
“Washington’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is upending one of the most durable patterns of American politics,” DeMuth wrote. “Throughout history, national emergencies have led to a more powerful and centralized federal government and to the transfer of federal power from Congress to the executive branch. This time, the federal response rests largely on state and local government and private enterprise, with a wave of deregulation clearing the way. The Trump administration has seized no new powers, and Congress has stayed energetically in the game.”
DeMuth added that “as soon as the magnitude of the epidemic was grasped, it was managed and subdued through vigorous localism, private enterprise and professional dedication, with the federal government providing essential national leadership but staying within its constitutional rails. … Diversified centers of authority and initiative aren’t luxuries. They are the keys to resilience in the face of emergencies large and small.”
Some states will reopen cleverly and with minimum problems. Other states will reopen clumsily – and have more health problems. Yet other states will try to avoid reopening while they suffer growing societal and economic pain.
Read more here.