STEPHEN HEMELT — Hard choice must be made about COVID-19’s most challenging dilemma

Published 12:04 am Sunday, July 5, 2020

There are two competing concerns that drive most people’s problem, including my own, when it comes to navigating life in Texas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are these:

  • Any job that helps someone put food on the table is “essential.”
  • Half measures lead to half results.

Addressing the first point, anytime elected leaders order a business closed, curtail the number of people a business can host or limit the manner in which a business can serve customers, they are negatively impacting an “essential” business.

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They can be doing that for all the right reasons, namely public health and safety, but the unintended consequence is damage to an “essential” profession.

Addressing the second point, if the “powers that be” determine COVID-19 is of such a risk to our nation’s health that drastic measures need to be taken, than an aggressive and complete shutdown is the only option.

Full-scale relief is not achievable through half-scale measures. Anybody who has ever worked an honest day in their life knows that.

So the question is: Does COVID-19 pose such a threat to the United States?

I’m NOT an expert in infectious diseases with a concentration in respiratory conditions.

That makes me just like 99 percent of Port Arthur Newsmedia readers and elected officials.

I have no problem admitting I am not qualified to offer an opinion on the question: Does the threat of COVID-19 rise to a level necessitating closure of “essential” jobs (defined above)?

That’s not an easy question. In fact, it is so blunt and leads to such serious ramifications that barely a single elected official will ever boil down our current crisis to that brass tacks level.

But, it’s time. You ran for office, won the office, accept the taxpayer-provided paychecks and benefits. You must make this tough decision.

Listen to the experts you value and publicly declare how we must proceed as a city, county, state and nation.

If the health impacts don’t rise to the level of mass concern, please pull off the restrictions imposed on local and national businesses that have left some closed, others barely surviving under government-imposed restriction and the rest wondering where the next day’s revenue will be generated.

If the health impacts do rise to mass concern, do what it takes to lead a national shutdown of everyday life outside of base functions like power, security and food. Then, take the next gigantic step and pause or fund each resident’s debt obligation. No one can be expected to keep up with bills if they are not allowed to work.

But after months of this yo-yo on shutdown orders, phased reopening, new shutdown orders and mask requirements, it’s time to provide clear direction on where we’re going.

We either declare COVID-19 the health plague of 2020 and attack it as aggressively as it’s attacking us or we pull the restrictions off community members who are being told they are not allowed to perform “essential” jobs but must maintain and pay for all pre-existing commitments to food, education, home and business.

I know that’s no easy task, but the rollercoaster of emotion, politics and stress delivered on the working woman and man due to the government’s coronavirus response is likely to leave a more lasting impact than even the deadly disease.

Stephen Hemelt is president of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at or 409-721-2445.