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Before it was shut down in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Huntington Mall was one of the busier places in the region. Now the mall's management waits for guidance from state and local health officials on what steps must be taken before it can reopen to the public.

Ryan Fischer/The Herald-Dispatch

Political commentary is easy. Politics itself, not so much.

That comes into focus as the various levels of government — federal, state and local — balance competing views on reopening the economy.

As an example of that, consider four articles that appeared on the front page of this newspaper on Wednesday, May 13.

“Fauci warns against reopening too quickly”: The infectious disease adviser to President Donald Trump warns of “suffering and death” if businesses open too quickly.

“Guidelines developing to reopen malls in WV”: Gov. Jim Justice says the state is still developing guidelines so indoor malls can be allowed to reopen safely, but he did not release a target date. The Huntington Mall has been closed since March 24.

“Hatfield-McCoy Trail system set to reopen May 21”: ATV riders from more than a dozen states could be returning to southern West Virginia soon to enjoy the region’s largest tourism draw.

“Lawrence courthouse to open to public”: The Lawrence County Courthouse was one of the first public buildings in this region to close to the public in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting Monday, all offices will be open to the public, but access will be strictly controlled and all visitors and employees must wear masks.

There are two competing visions of the world now. One side urges caution while the novel coronavirus remains active. The other side believes the threat has passed and it’s time to allow people to return to work.

As with any discussion, some people hold extreme positions on either side. The two extremes make sport of political commentary. Every small development is a reason to jump into the fray and express their prepackaged opinion, no matter how thoughtful or thoughtless it is.

The majority of people lie somewhere in the middle. They recognize the threat, but they believe it’s time to open the economy. It’s the speed of the reopening that dissatisfies them.

In all this, President Donald Trump and his advisors, the nation’s governors and its local officials bear the political burden of doing what’s necessary while keeping as many people as possible satisfied.

It’s not an easy job. The shutdown was driven by advice from experts on infectious diseases. Now that the experts are learning more about the novel coronavirus, we need to alter our plans as new facts come out.

We’re now in the phase where politicians are caught between public health experts and economists, between people who are vulnerable to the virus and people who apparently aren’t, between the patient and the impatient, between the public’s needs and its desires.

We went into lockdown to “flatten the curve” — to spread out the rate of infection so it would be a slow process over time rather than a sudden one that would overwhelm the nation’s health system. The curve has been flattened, and it’s time to put West Virginia back to work.

Businesses and institutions need guidance from the state because reopening brings the possibility of new outbreaks, such as people swarming into an indoor mall. It also opens those businesses and institutions to lawsuits from people who get sick. Guidance protects the business as much as it does the customer.

Whether shutting down large segments of the economy was a good idea or a bad one is beside the point right now. We really won’t have the answer to that for a while. What we need to do is play the hand that’s been dealt. The people making the decisions are fallible. Mistakes will be made. The whole process is going to take a while, so patience is needed.

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