By John K. Mixon
There is clear evidence the state is missing the mark regarding the new COVID-19 policies that became effective Nov. 23.
My company services the hospitality industry. To be sure, we care greatly for the health, safety and welfare of our guests. The restaurant industry calls its customers “guests” because that is exactly what they are — guests or friends who come to visit. In treating their customers as invited guests, they present people with an opportunity to socialize in a variety of environments. It is in every restaurant’s best interest to ensure a safe, friendly and tasty experience to each person who enters their doorway.
In our 16-plus years’ experience with venues, it is clear to us that restaurants have been the most compliant and safest situations for the public to engage in socialization during these trying times. We understand the fine line lawmakers must stride in attempting to flatten the curve to prevent overwhelming hospitals and bring an end to this pandemic, all while saving the economy from collapse. It is a daunting task. It seems our elected officials are attempting to solve this quagmire without regard to the negative impact on individual mental health issues stemming from isolation and lack of socialization.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health (2020) summarized the danger to older Americans, stating, “The mental and physical health in older people are negatively affected during the social distancing for COVID-19. The main mental and physical outcomes reported were anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality and physical inactivity during the isolation period.”
In a 2020 report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), researchers found that the mental health and even the very lives of older citizens were at risk due to isolation and lack of socialization. Referencing the NASEM report, the American Psychological Association emphasized, “Both isolation and loneliness are associated with increases in heart disease, dementia and other health problems.”
With certainty, negative mental health, domestic abuse or death, including suicide, caused by forced isolation will not show up on the COVID-19 balance sheets, thus making the state’s restrictions justifiable on paper. Every lawmaker strives to face voters and state, “I saved thousands of lives by taking a firm stance on preventing COVID transmission.” However, without taking mental health into consideration, this will be an inaccurate assessment of the consequences of lawmakers’ actions.
When you examine the factors that have likely spurred the resurgence of new COVID-19 cases, it becomes clear the new state restrictions are far too punitive on restaurants in relation to potential risks.
Schools. Private gatherings in homes. Bars after 10 p.m. Public, indoor houses of worship. Grocery stores. All these things pose a higher risk for COVID-19 transmission than restaurants that are in compliance with Phase 2 restrictions. In fact, restaurants are possibly the absolute best way to limit transmission, while also preventing negative mental health issues resulting from social isolation.
Restaurants, though, are an easy “soft target” for politicians. Because this collection of independent businesses are in competition with one another, restaurants are less likely to present an organized front and push back on prohibitive restrictions with any weight.
Therefore, I am urging governing bodies to add mental health risks to the discussion on prevention during the pandemic and to reevaluate restrictions with this vital factor in consideration. There is a better solution. If lawmakers would simply provide a Division of Public Health score card to rate every restaurant based on “virus-prevention effectiveness,” citizens would decide which venues to visit and which to avoid based on personal risk-tolerance factors. Restaurants that meet or exceed preventive standards would stand as part of the overall solution, while those that do not would close, as citizens make wise health decisions. Delaware’s governing bodies are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” with these new restaurant restrictions, which are harmful to the economy, employees and citizens, and are completely unnecessary.
I implore citizens, in good conscience, to demand that lawmakers consider mental health factors when formulating restrictions for the prevention of disease.
John K. Mixon of Milton is the owner of Salt & Light Entertainment and Let’s Do Entertainment Game Shows.