I do not like feeling it necessary to be detoured from my normal focus on health research and policy issues on this blog. But we truly are living in unprecedented times. I am encouraged that some sanity may be returning to discussions of appropriate reactions to the coronavirus epidemic. When people like Tom Friedman, whose column in the New York Times you should read if you have not (NYT column), say we need to avoid destroying the economy to delay the loss of a relatively few lives, perhaps politicians will listen. You can do your part by contacting your senators, your congressperson, your governor, your state legislators and writing letters to newspapers insisting that harms and benefits of various course of action be taken into account. Tens of millions of Americans are already experiencing dreadful economic effects. Most of these people live paycheck to paycheck, what are they supposed to do as their jobs disappear? You can google and easily find how to contact these politicians.
And please spread accurate information about the risks. There is every indication that for the vast majority of people even extended exposure to the virus would not result in infection. For those that are infected, the majority have no symptoms. For a few people, almost all with preexisting health problems, the virus is a serious risk. It seems obvious, therefore, that a better strategy is to do the best we can to protect those who are at high risk, but not do incredible harm to the rest of the population by enforcing a virtual economic shutdown. I truly believe we are in the grips of one of those mass delusions or panics that we typically associate with financial matters, but which apparently can occur in regard to health matters as well. If you have not read the book Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, (book) written centuries ago, now while we all have so much down time would be a good occasion.
And be sure people understand that the current attempt at suppressing the virus is not designed to prevent illness or deaths, it is only a delaying strategy, it just pushes the period of pain out further. It should be obvious to everyone that this virus, like all coronaviruses, is now here with us and it will be here with us, just like influenza viruses and many other infectious agents. We are going to have to figure out a rational way to live with that. It is not yet apparent that this virus is any more virulent than strains of the influenza virus and it targets many of the same vulnerable populations. So we should take the usual approach that we do to such infectious agents–exercise good hygiene; if you know you are sick, stay away from others; if you are not in good health or are otherwise at high risk, take extra precautions. But there is no value to causing excessive economic damage by a lockdown; that only limits the resources we ultimately have available as a society to help the population.