Guidance on an Open-Ended Shutdown

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An article in the Fall River Herald describes the frustration of hotel owners in Newport, RI, with their inability to make plans, because government officials aren’t giving clear signals about what might happen with stringent regulations imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Hotel owners and operators say they need a target date from state officials so they can begin booking out-of-state guests who won’t face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

“Without a target date, we can’t market and plan,” said Kate DeCosta, chief operating officer for the Newport Experience, which operates the OceanCliff Hotel. “Without a date, we can’t start booking rooms. Every day we can’t do that, we are held back from recapturing lost revenues. It’s a double whammy now.”

Owner Colin Kane suggests that even “guidance” that they shouldn’t open all summer would be preferable to no decisions’ being made.  At least the businesses could decide to shut down for the season and make plans from there.

The problem is that we’re operating in vagueness at the moment, because the governor doesn’t actually have the authority to unilaterally declare that legal businesses will remain shut for more than a month, or two months, or a summer.  Governor Gina Raimondo may be stringing things along because she’s hoping for a good turn or a miracle cure that allows as much tourism as possible in 2020, but even if she thinks these businesses should close, she lacks the authority to demand it.

Such a declaration would have political repercussions, too.  This wouldn’t necessarily be a crass political calculation; a move as profound as effectively cancelling summer could spark much broader rebellion across the state, making the governor’s precautionary measures completely useless.

Of course, the hotels could decide for themselves that planning for a lost season is a better option than being unprepared to plan for anything.  Or they could begin to fight the governor’s assumption of power.  As with festival managers, however, one suspects that guidance isn’t all the businesses want, but guidance that their competitors feel compelled to follow, as well.

Add this to a growing list of reasons our representatives and senators in the General Assembly are proving to be worse than useless when their positions require them to have the smallest bit of courage.  They could offer guidance with legal standing months into the future.  But then they’d have to take responsibility for the consequences, one way or another.  (They should have to take responsibility for the consequences of their utter failure to do their jobs, but the insiders have Rhode Island so locked up that they probably won’t.)

Thus, we’re back to the underlying problem:  Based on the standards that the governor has set for pandemic control, she can’t really offer a target date for opening, and as a state, we have allowed her complete autonomy to set those standards.  One needn’t conclude that she has chosen poorly (although I do), but leaving it as her choice alone means choices can’t be confidently made.



  • Lou

    Funny, when I think of “proving to be worse than useless when their positions require them to have the smallest bit of courage” I think of Mitch McConnell.