I applaud Gov. Walz for making immediate and difficult decisions within an information vacuum. It’s now appropriate to refine the decisions based on safety and science.

Good public policy is simple, equitable and easy to administer. The uniqueness of a pandemic stretches public policy to its limits, perhaps beyond.

As an example, your mayor and City Council collaborated with local retailers and restaurateurs. A recent quote in this paper: “I’m not sure why restaurants are the villains here,” said Jeff Petschl. The Petschls own Charlie’s on Prior, a top-shelf restaurant and establishment. He and his wife, Traci, did everything right since their opening. They built a world-class facility, carefully nurtured their brand marketing and plated delicious food.

Inequitable public policy caused this dream to fail, and they must exit. Jeff is right. Restaurants weren’t necessarily vilified, but they were not afforded the opportunity to operate like other businesses. Nor were they or the public allowed a learning curve for restaurant operations during a pandemic. Is it possible to operate safely?

The public policy was arbitrary.

Currently, you are allowed to shop at a big-box retailer. You walk the aisles. Others breeze by you within 6 feet. You touch products handled by others throughout the supply chain. You interact with a teller. You and the teller are well within 6 feet.

After a learning curve of several months, an open-ended plastic barrier was installed between you and the teller. As you pass by the barrier on either side you’re within 6 feet of each other. You collect your goods, no barrier, 3 feet from the teller.

Similar experiences are had at drive-thru windows retrieving fast food.

Public policy deemed these environments safe. Are they? Maybe. Is it worth trying? Yes. For all businesses.

Prior Lake restaurants collaborated and proposed the following: maximum occupancy 25%, staff wear personal protective equipment, standard COVID-19 protocols for cleaning and distance are in place. Your order is digitally placed or placed with wait staff at a proper distance. A cart with your order is rolled to your table. You serve yourself. You pay digitally and depart.

Smaller retail stores proposed the following: a limited number of visitors, expanded thoroughfares, standard COVID protocols for cleaning and distance are in place.

These procedures should be confirmed with qualified health professionals. At face, they appear as reasonable as what is being done at already-open businesses.

Big-box retailers, fast food restaurants and grocery stores were allowed to open. Small businesses were not allowed to open. This is not equitable public policy.

Your City Council voted 5-0 to petition Gov. Walz to allow small businesses and restaurants to open with a set of safety protocols that met or exceeded what was occurring at already open retailers.

Some viewed this as atrocious, experimenting with citizens as guinea pigs and appalling.

As a matter of public policy I cannot discriminate between your trip to Target, under protocols, and your trip to a local restaurant or boutique store, also under protocols.

It is difficult to imagine life without big-box retailers. It is easier to imagine life without small businesses. They became disposable.

Assuredly, there are many victims beyond small business owners and restaurateurs. There are millions of Americans who are now facing financial loss because of current events. Public policy should assist as many sectors as possible, and our hope is this will cascade to the many workers throughout each supply and service chain.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, the federal and state orders closing many businesses but excluding certain “critical” camps should have been built around a set of safety protocols developed by credible, independent health professionals and then applied to all businesses. If your business could achieve operational health and safety within the agreed protocols, you remained open, big business or small business.

The public may or may not return as customers. Certain vulnerable populations assuredly will not. And the way in which customers return and the way in which businesses meet their customers has changed. I suspect the new normal is already here.

In my opinion, I don’t see an exit for COVID save a vaccine. Draconian measures have been successful in several hamlets throughout the world. But once these areas reopen internally and externally, the successes will disappear, replaced by the same or another illness.

It appears COVID is around sixth or seventh on our list of killers so far — behind heart disease, cancer, accidents, chronic respiratory, stroke and Alzheimer’s, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Going forward, as we’ve accomplished with other maladies, we need to find a balance that allows us to coexist with pathogens, not close down.

Government may not be judged well post-mortem on this time period. From the top down, we were not prepared. A lack of data, CDC complications with testing rollout, 24/7 news incentivized by controversy designed to keep eyeballs on commercials, social media, and movies about pandemics spun this into a frenzy and a meltdown. We closed the economy. We printed money.

Gov. Walz, his staff and our healthcare heroes have done remarkably well managing this lockdown, respecting the virus and identifying new safe behaviors. Our systems are catching up. Going forward this knowledge should be equitably applied across the spectrum of our lives and livelihoods. Balanced. Measured. Amplify self responsibility. Respect yourself, respect others.

We know what we can’t do: Close our country until a cure is found. That would kill us. And we can’t continue to print money borrowing on the backs of future generations who may face more deadly challenges.

Your City Council pursues good public policy: simple, equitable and easy to administer. We will keep moving forward.

Kevin Burkart is a Prior Lake accountant, entrepreneur and member of the City Council.


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