Everyone, including me and the governors that ordered it, hates the shutdown. But some leaders are calling for an early end to it, prior to the time period recommended by epidemiologists. The claim is that “the cure is worse than the disease” or that “old people should die rather than America”. I disagree.
First: life is precious.
Second, the current economic hardship is not destroying democracy or our culture or every sector of the economy. It is causing an economic depression and destroying some sectors of the economy and generally ruining the lives of tens of millions who used to work for or own businesses that have shut their doors. So it is a major hardship but it is not “destroying America.”
Third: common sense. We could lift the social distancing early, but then a month or two later, If most people in America contract the virus in a short period of time because we end social distancing, the economic impact will be horrendous— worse than what we currently experience.
Why would that occur?
We know from Italy’s experience that once the “genie is out of the bottle” that social distancing does not work very well. South Korea and Singapore and China show that early social distancing reduces the burst of simultaneous cases spreading through the country and overwhelming health care.
So we have every reason to accept the consensus view from epidemiologists that this disease will infect most of our country without social distancing.
What about the flu?
Because many people take flu vaccine, the likelihood diminishes that a person with seasonal flu transmits it to someone with whom they socialize or work, especially when vaccine rates are high in that community.
You may remember that measles outbreaks occurred last year with hot spots in communities that eschewed vaccinations. But since the vast majority of Americans are vaccinated for measles, it was relatively simple to isolate the disease and effectively end transmission.
But there is no corona vaccine.
So imagine If Italy ended social distancing now. Not only would enormous numbers die from corona and other conditions, but the economy of the country would shut down from too many sick people. The same is true here.
When too many critical workers in power plants, water treatment plants and public safety get sick, business will not function as normal. Supply chains and direct operation necessary to sustain life for electric power, clean water and sewage, and food provisioning will break down. Buildings will close— not because of government order but because the elevators won’t work. Grocery stores will close or have too little food.
How will people respond if electric power goes and the grocery stores are emptied? There could be roving gangs of hungry people and looters looking for food and threatening property. None of that is a concern as long as we contain the disease with social distancing.
Even if none of these parade of horrible occurred, think of how unproductive our businesses will be if most people take off three weeks for a serious corona leave?
Right now, several sectors of the economy are functioning with people working from home. Several sectors have shut down. But life and the economy would be much worse if schools, bars and restaurants were open for a month only to be followed by seventy five percent of the workforce on sick leave. Can you imagine your workplace missing most of the people for sick leave?
We are strong enough to endure the harsh medicine of social distancing. Our entrepreneurial spirit and social nature will generate new ways to get business done.
It would be a colossal mistake to go backwards.