Corona Virus Shutdown: When Do We Flip the Switch?

The primary focus of the nation has rightly been on stopping the spread of the Covid-19 corona virus. Undoubtedly, this has saved lives and we are all grateful for that.

But there is another disaster looming – our nation’s economy. As I write these words, the headline of the Wall Street Journal declares “Millions More File Jobless Claims.” Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment since this virus pandemic began.

If you’re a medical epidemiology expert, this doesn’t concern you. Your job is to prevent the spread of the virus. But, if you’re an elected government official, especially if you’re President Trump, you’ve got to be concerned about this pending disaster, too.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell put it this way: “People have been asked to put their lives and livelihoods on hold, at significant economic and personal cost. We are moving with alarming speed from 50-year lows in unemployment to what will likely be very high, although temporary, levels.”

We will very soon reach a tipping point when we must decide when to reopen the economy. That decision will have significant consequences – it will impact the safety of some individuals; it will improve the economic situations of many others. It will impact the political future of our country, depending on the success of that decision and its timing. If President Trump makes the right call, it will insure his re-election. If he makes the wrong call, it will usher in a new Democratic administration. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. He recently called this “the biggest decision of my life.” I hope that all Americans, regardless of political party, will pray that the president makes the right call.

Why not just maintain the shutdown indefinitely?

Dr. Joseph Lapado is an associate professor at UCLA School of Medicine. He has written opinion pieces in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. His advice:

“To help set the right course for our country, we must grasp some simple – but tough – facts. The novel corona virus is highly contagious and tragically lethal to many. There is no guarantee of a vaccine within the next 18 months. We have taken measures to slow the virus, but these can’t stop it. The only thing that can stop the virus at this advanced stage of community transmission is a complete lockdown, which can happen in authoritarian countries like China, but not in the U.S.”

“Embracing reality also makes other things clear. If we can’t shut down for 18 months on the gamble that an effective vaccine will arrive, how long will it be worth committing millions of families to poverty and uprooting lives, education and every other part of the economy? Politicians have largely dodged this question.”

The shutdown must end soon if we are to avoid an even greater economic disaster than the viral pandemic we are currently experiencing. A balancing of the needs to maintain viral precautions and social distancing must be weighed against the needs of millions of unemployed Americans. The answer probably lies in a gradual reopening of the economy in areas where the spread of the virus is clearly under control, while emphasizing the importance of clean hands awareness and continuing good habits that will slow the spread of the virus. The most vulnerable citizens should maintain the strictest precautions.

These measures will not stop the spread of the virus, but should make it possible to stay ahead of the demand for medical services, PPEs, ventilators, and other hospital equipment. This will make it possible to provide the best medical care for those who still contract the virus despite taking precautions. As more and more people recover from virus infection, the development of “herd immunity” will slow further spread of the virus. In time, more and more therapeutic measures will be developed to treat the virus until effective vaccines are available in about 12 – 18 months. At that point, the worst of this nightmare will be over.

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