More Straight Talk on Coronavirus

By March 20, 2020 March 22nd, 2020 Commentary

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial this morning calling for a re-evaluation of the measures being taken to suppress coronavirus.  I am hoping that may spark a wider discussion of what the appropriate response is.  It has become apparent that those measures are inflicting severe pain and will inflict even more severe pain upon our population.  Those harms should be balanced against the harm from various levels of coronavirus spread.  We don’t know what the effect of more widespread coronavirus infection will be.  Right now, out of over 15,000 active confirmed cases in the United States, only a few hundred are considered serious or critical.  All these numbers need to be viewed in context, because there are probably multiples of infected people compared to confirmed cases.  So there is no reason for these exaggerated and overblown statements about hospitals being flooded, etc.

On the other hand, we do know what the consequences of the attempts to completely suppress the virus by locking down society will be.  Already 14 million people have lost their jobs.  These are mostly low-income individuals living paycheck to paycheck.  You probably know some of them.  That is just a start.  The job losses, and the general panic and anxiety induced by officials’ reactions will take a horrendous toll.  There will be suicides, health declines due to stress and to poor access to care, homelessness, inadequate food intake and on and on.  The scale of the damage is such that there is no possible way the government can address it.  If the purpose of government is to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people, or to do the least harm to the fewest people, why isn’t this kind of balancing being conducted.  Instead, out of fear of being criticized, our so-called leaders are blindly ordering ever-more extreme measures that only worsen the harm inflicted.  It has to stop.

And the damage from these lockdown measures is compounded by the likelihood that they are futile.  Like the flu virus, these viruses are widespread and are going to be widespread.   It is inevitable that they will infect most Americans.  The sooner they do, the sooner the harms will be minimized.  Hopes for a vaccine that absolutely prevents infection are over-stated.  Influenza vaccines provide some, but not complete protection.  There is no reason to think there will be any difference with coronaviruses.  So we are likely destroying the lives of tens of millions of Americans by measures that won’t succeed in completely suppressing the virus.

What is the alternative?  No one would suggest we do nothing.  There is value in trying to minimize the surge of need for hospital beds in particular.  But there should be balance.  Schools should be ordered to reopen.  Parents who are fearful can keep their children home if they can provide an alternative for the children to keep up with schoolwork.  Staff who are vulnerable can stay home.  All staff and children could be temperature checked daily, as fever is an almost universal symptom of infection.  Bars, restaurants and stores should be free to reopen.  People who are worried don’t have to go out, but those who want to go should be free to do so.  Businesses should be encouraged to be open and keep people employed.  Travel should be encouraged, again with checks on temperature.  Elderly housing facilities should continue to be locked down, as those people are clearly at serious risk.  Other elderly people should avoid public contact.  Governments should develop programs to get food, health care and other necessities to those persons.  Widespread testing should continue and people should continue to isolate themselves if they are infected or suspect they may be.

This course of action means that more people will become infected and a relatively very small number will develop serious illness.  But this must be balanced against the harms which are clearly being incurred by the current measures.  We all need to force a discussion about the measures to be taken.  A few government officials should not have the power to arbitrarily make these decisions.  I encourage all of you to share this post or to otherwise make people aware of the issues.  I encourage all of you to write or call politicians and tell them to have a real debate about the appropriate course of action.  Otherwise we are sinking into a morass from which we may not recover.   #thecureisworsethanthedisease

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