You are probably like me right now: torn over the “should we or should we not?” question to open up our country during this pandemic. That question made me think deeply about my own views and what are my pros and cons:
On the one hand there were, and still are, so many unknowns. But we do know that the shutdown did “flatten the curve” of infection and it’s potential to spread:
1) There was no way the U.S. healthcare system could have handled potentially 2-5 million cases with hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and the projected best case death rate of 100,000 to 200,000. Overwhelming the healthcare system was not an option.
2) The U.S. was not (and still isn’t) prepared for a pandemic with testing or even antibody testing. How many are infected is just a guess so estimating herd immunity (and even if that immunity is long-lasting) is unknown.
3) We also don’t know how many strains there are. Five have been genetically identified so far, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that — like coronaviruses are known to do — mutations *will* accelerate and, God forbid, one of those mutations will spike the mortality rate.
4) Imagine that the mortality rate did spike and the virus’ virulence becomes substantially stronger. The likelihood that, pre-vaccine over the next 12-18 months, these sorts of mutations could see death rates climb in to the low to middle single digits.
5) Those dangers are obvious, but the one we can’t get cavalier about is opening up too fast, getting complacent, and causing an exponential increase in infection. If we do, #3 and #4 above will happen (and may anyway this winter season) since we don’t have a vaccine yet.
CONS ON THE SHUTDOWN
On the other hand the shutdown is devastating the economy which is bad for everybody.
1) According to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the U.S. economy shrank at its fastest pace ever as GDP dropped 4.8%. If we don’t start to open up parts of the economy and fast, we will slip in to a depression (and are already in a recession).
2) But beyond that statistic, this one is the real issue: searching Google on “U.S. living paycheck-to-paycheck” turns up dozens of articles that outline that 49% to 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (some articles are from ‘news’ outlets that have political agendas, in my view).
3) Fortunately people aren’t spending as much money and are saving more (incomes are down but savings rate is the highest in 39 years, according to MarketWatch) so hopefully that will help.
4) Unfortunately, we don’t really know the current 2020 state of American’s finances. Why? The Federal Reserve performs this Survey of Consumer Finances every three years, and the last one was done in 2016 (the 2019 survey results will be published “in late 2020” according to this press release by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell).
SO WHAT TO DO NEXT?
There are a number of really smart proposals out there about how to open the economy but *very, very carefully* so that asymptomatic people don’t exponentially infect others and spike the mutations and possibly the mortality rate. Do a Google search on “proposals to open the U.S. economy” to see more.
Most people have become quite knowledgeable on how to protect themselves, even though the instructions about how to stay protected are seemingly all over the map (and Trump’s goofy and rally-like briefing outbursts don’t help). That means that most of us will instinctively know how to stay relatively safe and either not be spreaders of the virus or catch it ourselves.
We do need to get the economy back up and running but cautiously. As Morgan Stanley biotechnology research analyst Matthew Harrison put it in an April 6 op-ed, “Hope that…the U.S. has not reached crisis levels…will be shortlived, as the reality sets in that the path to reopening the U.S. economy is going to be long, and marred by stops and starts. It will be fully resolved only when vaccines are widely available in spring 2021, at the earliest.”
I do wish we had smarter and more savvy leadership without personal aggrandizement as the primary goal. But this is the hand we were dealt by the Electoral College in the United States, so we’ll have to push to help our current ‘leadership’ move toward the best strategy.
Good luck to us all and stay safe.