Every death due to COVID-19 is one too many. Every job lost is also one too many. Every bankruptcy is one too many, and every business that permanently closes its doors due to coronavirus is one too many. Every suicide borne out of depression or anxiety spawned by COVID-19 is one too many. The COVID-19 situation is a multi-faceted one with ripple effects invading every aspect of our society.

This crisis has presented leaders at all levels with unprecedented challenges, and my comments in this article should not be interpreted as condemnation of our state or federal officials.

COVID-19 is highly contagious and therefore spreads rapidly, which led officials to develop strategies to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Based on the limited information initially available about the virus’s effects and mortality rates, health officials offered a prescription centered around social distancing, which led to restrictions and stay-at-home-orders across the country.

When we see television ads promoting medicines, they warn against the potential side effects. The message is often something like this: “If you experience this symptom, stop taking this medicine and contact your doctor immediately.” If a prescription’s side effects are overly harmful or fatal, that prescription is not a cure.

A tourniquet is used in an emergency situation to help stop the bleeding. While effective in certain, necessary situations, a tourniquet is not a long-term treatment. If you leave it on too long, it will likely kill the very limb it was intended to save. Once the bleeding is under control, you move to a more appropriate long-term remedy.

While I believe the prescription offered to slow the spread of COVID-19 was well-intended and thus far appears to have been effective in flattening the curve here in North Carolina, it has had tremendous negative side effects. Many small businesses are at a breaking point and may not ever be able to re-open. People are losing jobs, and unemployment claims are skyrocketing. Key segments of our economy have come to a screeching halt. The federal government passed a stimulus bill that, while perhaps helpful in the short term, piles onto its already unsustainable debt. Many medical appointments not directly related to COVID-19 have been delayed. A serious mental health crisis may emerge as a major consequence of the COVID-19 situation, and I am fearful that we will see a spike in suicides, domestic violence, child abuse and opioid abuse. Many are also rightfully concerned about the current restrictions being a precursor to a permanent loss of the freedoms that are the very foundation of America.

In recent weeks, many citizens have voiced their desire to re-open North Carolina immediately. In essence, they are reporting side effects of the current prescription and asking for an alternative treatment plan that minimizes adverse economic and mental health side effects. People who are worried about their future are seeking clarity, hope, and direction.

The current situation is not sustainable. It is imperative that we move toward responsibly and safely re-opening our economy as soon as possible, or the long-term side effects will be catastrophic for many. If the treatment itself is fatal, it is not a cure.

While I do not envy the decisions Governor Cooper is faced with, I was disappointed that phase one of North Carolina’s re-opening plan did not include provisions for ALL businesses – including restaurants, salons and others that are still mandated to be closed – to re-open with appropriate safety protocols in place.

Social distancing and re-opening our economy are not mutually exclusive; we can accomplish both. We can protect our health, protect our vulnerable populations, AND re-start our economy. Indeed, we must, or our nation and our way of life may be unrecognizable on the other side.

Additionally, we must be realistic in our expectations. We don’t live in a risk-free world; we never have, and we never will. Flattening the curve does not mean there won’t ever be another case.

Every right comes with a corresponding responsibility. As individuals, we must each exercise personal responsibility and demonstrate that we can and will do what is required to continue flattening the curve without a government edict requiring us to do so. Our Constitutional rights and freedoms are not a license to act irresponsibly, and my comments should NOT be construed as supporting any violation of the orders that are in place. As former Governor Pat McCrory tweeted on April 23, “Agree … that NC needs to begin process to reopen but our social distancing needs to continue whenever possible and that includes protesters!… Don’t put your stupid hat on!”

It’s time to move toward safely re-opening our entire economy – but it has to be done intelligently, and we as individuals must act responsibly.