My academic field is organizational strategy, which has more in common with epidemiology than most people realize, in that both fields collect large amounts of data from the environment and analyze them to develop plans for how to best position a population (epidemiology) or an organization (strategy) to survive a complex array of threats.

Efforts currently under way in the U.S. to lift stay-at-home orders are a gigantic mistake. For now, the only viable option for limiting spread of the disease is social distancing. There is no cure and no realistic hope of getting one in the next year. There is no vaccine and no realistic hope of getting one in the next 6 months, perhaps much longer.

We could change our odds of success by testing and contact tracing, but are woefully inadequate on both. No discussion about lessening social distancing rules should happen until those problems are completely solved.

Relaxing stay-at-home orders and opening business, transportation and government entities that cause people to crowd together will be disastrous. Not "could be" disastrous -- "will be" disastrous.

I have never wished to be wrong about something as much as I wish to be wrong about this. But I'm not wrong. Forty years of study and practice tells me that the right way to make these kinds of decisions -- cold-eyed, based only on data, and free of emotion -- will reach just one conclusion: our only option at this time is social distancing.

We in rural South Dakota have an advantage because of low population density. Outbreaks are not as common as in more highly-populated areas. But social-distancing rules cannot be applied at the county level.

If, as many experts predict, lifting stay-at-home rules brings on another wave of COVID-19, the economic damage could tilt businesses, professions, institutions and even governments into bankruptcy. We must stop thinking about only our personal outcomes and start thinking about whole states and the country.

If I'm wrong about this, I look forward to eating a steaming platter of crow. If I'm right about it, my heart will break because we had a chance to save lives and better our prospects for the future, but turned our back on that chance for all the wrong reasons.

I beg you to continue social distancing regardless of actions by local or state governments. Our country is not ready to "reopen."

Jack Walters

Madison, April 29