Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a full moratorium on water shutoffs at the end of March 2020, right as the pandemic was beginning to take hold nationwide. In October, Michigan’s Supreme Court nullified those orders as part of its broader decision declaring the governor’s emergency orders to be unconstitutional. As predicted, cases in Michigan immediately spiked to highs that dwarfed any previous pandemic surge; these highs continued until mid-December, when state legislators reinstated some of those orders as new law.
By controlling for other factors such as testing rates, mask mandates, and “other state policies,” the authors were able to estimate how many of those new cases could be attributed to water shutoffs, and therefore estimate how things might have looked different if Michigan and all the other states did not order suspension of water shutoffs during the crisis. “A nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have reduced COVID infections by 4.0 percent and deaths by 5.5 percent in states that lacked moratoria,” the study concluded.
Let’s go back, then, to the very premise of this national pandemic. A newly emerged virus proves to be both explosively contagious and deadly to a significant number of those infected by it. We are immediately told that the very best ways to keep the virus from spreading are rigorous hand-washing routines and no more face-touching. Gotta keep clean.
And then we shut off the water in people’s houses and tell them good luck with that!
So then, we can roughly estimate at this point that a bit under half a million Americans were infected with the virus specifically because (1) they or someone they were in contact with could not pay their water bills during a business-closing pandemic and (2) were therefore unable to protect themselves in the manner suggested by health officials, by posters, in viral videos, and so on.
None of this was difficult to foresee, which means the lack of action in states that resisted emergency measures to reinstate water access was a deliberate act.
Unfortunately, this is not merely a matter of hindsight. The Washington Post notes that existing water shutoff moratoriums will be expiring in the coming next weeks. Nationwide, the $1 billion of federal money intended to go toward protecting water access has not yet been delivered. Michigan’s own moratorium will end tonight, and the state is currently in the middle of “one of the worst coronavirus resurgences in the country.”
Experts, the Post reports, fear a “tidal wave” of new shutoffs that will result in new pandemic spikes.
The Biden administration could, in theory, issue a nationwide ban on water shutoffs. It would be nearly identical to the federal moratorium on evictions, an action also taken because homelessness (or even having to move from one location to another, during lockdown) is a substantive public health risk during a nationwide damn pandemic. That hasn’t happened so far, likely because federal health officials are already under attack for every other safety measure they have ordered or suggested. They should get over it.
Bringing us back to our movie comparisons, it truly is remarkable how willfully ineffective state leaders have been (mostly in, of course, the Republican-led states) during what from the beginning should have been regarded as a time of war. It is not that the heroes were stopped from acting: They never even made it into the screenplay. State elected officials, unable to comprehend even the most basic implications of the pandemic, chose to Jurassic Park the thing from beginning to end, but had already climbed up onto the rubble 20 minutes into the movie to wave a flag and declare themselves the glorious victors.
It’s a public health emergency, and a deadly creature is on the loose? Wow, we had better … go on television to demand that nobody take cover, because that’s what cowards would do. You there, go to a bar. We’ll watch from here.
It’s a public health emergency, and our enemy can be defeated by hand-washing and mask-wearing? Quick, turn off the water and proclaim mask-wearing to be insufficiently manly.
It’s a nationwide public health emergency, and all we have to do to fight it is have everyone go home, sit on their couch, and watch television for a few weeks, maintaining only the most minimal human interactions as necessary to keep food and supply lines running? NO. I hereby announce that spring break this year will be held in the raptor enclosure. Here are the keys, don’t bother locking up.
We don’t even need heroes at this point. They’re too loud and cause too much property damage to begin with. We would have been fine if only 20% of this nation’s elected pompadours were channelling the mayor from Jaws, rather than two-thirds of them.
Uuuuuugh. God help us, we can’t even muster anything but a half-assed response to an actual world-shaking pandemic. There is no damn chance in hell we’ll be able to hold our own against, say, the Florida pythons. Might as well just lie down and crawl into their mouths right now.