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New Mexico’s busy putting healthy folks out of work

Another client of mine nearly closed (the first) weekend (in August). Scarpa’s was visited by two state police officers, and then by city health department officials. You’ll appreciate this: Law enforcement took two of its best away from drugs, shootings, assaults and deadly crashes to close down Scarpa’s.

Scarpa’s crime was to provide patio dining by elevating its wall system that opens some of its dining area to the sunlight and the fresh air. The restaurant’s ventilation system provided positive air flow continuously over the tables. It’s a system that is used throughout the world. But, we have a government that knows better and has the unlimited resources to send law enforcement to impose its judgment. Scarpa’s can comply with our government’s edict by moving some tables 2 feet – not kidding – and spending $2,000 a month on a tent in a parking lot. Less sunlight, less ventilation. But, who cares?

When the government doesn’t trust the judgment of its own citizens, we’re in a bad way. The condescension and misleading use of statistics by (Human Services Secretary) Dr. (David) Scrase in his opinion piece last month is an example, as he is leading the charge in killing small restaurants and cafes. As a doctor, his singular focus is on the virus. As a policy-maker, he is myopic. Someone must evaluate other aspects of our society and economy in making decisions that balance the factors that makes our lives safe, productive, rewarding and happy. No single variable should trump everything else.

His estimated ratio of known-to-unknown COVID cases is 1:4.8, meaning we have almost five times the actual cases than are confirmed by testing. He then treats that number as if it has significance to the population as a whole, without regard to geography, age, medical conditions or activity. If three people with pre-existing conditions in Bernalillo County, who have never eaten at a restaurant this year, die, Dr. Scrase justifies closing the restaurants, not because diners are really being infected, but because it is a theoretical possibility.

His description of Sweden permitting the virus to spread without any public policy initiatives is wildly inaccurate. That country moved too late to protect the elderly. The same mistake was made by New York and by New Mexico. Thus, 89% of the deaths in Sweden have been in people over 70 years old; 67% have been over the age of 80. Over half of the deaths in Sweden are associated with living facilities for the elderly. Sweden screwed up in protecting the elderly. But, in leaving their schools, stores and cafes open, they have demonstrated that the general population can function without severe shutdowns, and without a heightened level of illness.

So, in a better world, the policy-maker who is seeking to keep our state safe and happy would focus efforts on the vulnerable populations while leaving the rest of the population to go about their lives. That person would trust restaurant people to take protective measures. That policy-maker would consider the growing evidence of depression, abuse, suicide and bankruptcy and not treat the number of COVID infections as if it is the score in a game.

In my small law practice, we have dealt with over 200 jobs lost by clients who have closed. Another two companies are on the brink, which will terminate over 100 more jobs. There is no way to conduct a business with arbitrary and uninformed decisions being imposed by the government, sometimes with little notice. Today, we look for solutions not to solve the contagion, but to work around the government. And, more cooks, servers, and staff are out of a job.

By the way, all of them were healthy. But, who cares?

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