Will we allow coronavirus to destroy the fabric of American life?
I propose a four-point plan to prevent a prolonged economic recession or depression in the U.S. caused by unjustified fear and panic about coronavirus:
- Young and middle-aged healthy adults go back to work now.
- Young and middle-aged healthy adults and children return to usual social interactions and school, using 6-foot distancing and face masks if desired.
- Extreme social distancing for those at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 for the next 2–3 months, then re-evaluate the situation. The goal is NO EXPOSURE to those who may transmit the virus to them. Protect the medically frail who are over 60, particularly if over 70 or 80.
- Continued isolation of COVID-19 cases until they’re no longer infectious.
- A large majority of the COVID-19 deaths and serious illness will be in the elderly (over 60-65) and/or those with risk factors for serious illness, as we’ve seen in Italy, China, and South Korea.
- Those under 60-65 will have less severe illness and be much less likely to require hospitalization.
- The pandemic in the U.S. is not going to be as bad as predictions you may have heard or read (e.g., 500,000 to 2.2 million deaths), in part due to actions already taken: isolation of cases, self-quarantine or mandated quarantine, social distancing, education on infection prevention, etc).
- The recent $2 trillion relief package passed by Congress is unlikely to be very effective, particularly after the bureaucrats, politicians, major banks, and Big Business take their usual lions share. There won’t be much left for little guys like you and me.
- “Relief packages” passed by politicians are not the answer. Government is more of a problem than a solution.
- GM and Ford, et al, can’t make 50,000 ventilators in 3–4 weeks. By the time they’re ready, they won’t be needed.
- The situation is quite fluid and helpful medical information arrives daily. So we need to stay light on our feet and ready to incorporate it.
- The role of quarantine isn’t clear even now. We need more information. If a nurse treats a COVID-19 patient at the hospital, should she be on quarantine for two weeks or can she keep working? At what point do folks without symptoms start shedding virus that can infect others?
- We’re seeing a power grab by federal and state governments that is unjustified and unprecedented in our lifetimes. For instance, a Florida pastor was arrested for holding a church service in violation of social distancing. Doesn’t the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution give us the right to peaceably assemble and freely exercise our religion? Once grabbed, government does not readily relinquish power. For more on this issue, read Peter Grant’s April 1 blog post.
- Behavior of those living in COVID-19 hot spots like New Orleans or New York city may need to be different from those living elsewhere.
- Extreme social distancing of those at risk or serious illness from COVID-19 may well require them to withdraw from the workforce for several months (or longer), but that’s much less harmful than what is essentially “house arrest” of 80–90% of the population.
- Our list of conditions that increase serious risk from COVID-19 may well change over time as we learn more.
- Increased testing to identify those infected with coronavirus will help us devise better containment measures. Containment will also be easier when we can identify—via antibody testing—those who have already been infected and are cured and (hopefully) immune to the current strain of the virus.
The problem with state-mandated or encouraged social distancing is that it’s strangling our economy.
Physicians, virologists, and epidemiologists who are advising our politicians are typically focused on medical aspects of the coronavirus epidemic. Economics is on the back burner, naturally, since that’s not their area of expertise. But the economy matters!
Post-viral apocalypse? Raccoon City?
In the U.S. in February 2020, 165 million people were in the labor force. For the week ended March 21, 2020, the U.S. set a record for unemployment benefits applications: 3.3 million. The very next week, a new record was set: 6.6 million. Economists are predicting a drop in 2nd quarter Gross Domestic Product of at least 20%.
In good times, most folk don’t apprehend the web of connections among various parts of the economy. They will soon find out.
Unemployment has been linked with a number of psychological disorders, particularly anxiety, depression, and substance abuse; dangerous behaviors including suicide and violence toward family members or others also correlate with unemployment. These associations hold true not only in surveys of those already unemployed but also in studies that follow one or several individuals with no psychological difficulties into a period of unemployment. Such findings have been reported from many industrialized nations and, with some minor variations, apply to workers of both sexes and all ages.
Research regarding the consequences of unemployment may be confounded by a commensurate loss of income in subjects being studied. However, some studies try to account for this phenomenon of drop in socioeconomic status. Although an alert health care system may provide some needed assistance, resolution of the problem lies outside the field of medicine.
For example regarding suicide, among the unemployed aged 26 to 64 suicide was two-and-a-half times more likely than those who had jobs. Worldwide, one in five suicides is linked to unemployment. In 2017, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 47,000 victims. At the time of this posting, the U.S. has reported 5,137 deaths from COVID-19.
Bankruptcies and unemployment will lead to an epidemic of despair.
“Honey, we’ll be able to see the grandkids in few months. It’s just too dangerous right now.”
Additionally, the stock markets in the U.S—S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average—are already down by 20–30%, depending on the day you check. I wouldn’t be surprised if it drops another 20% or more from here. Imagine how that affects folks approaching retirement, or in it already, who are depending on their 401k’s to live.
Laid-off workers without a paycheck can’t pay their mortgages or car payments or other loans. In most jurisdictions, unemployment benefits are woefully inadequate: in Arizona it’s $240/week. This is a set-up for massive loan defaults. One silver lining: If you have cash, it may soon be buyer’s market for homes and new or used cars.
Panicking is rarely good. Let’s stop.
Expect more from me on Extreme Social Distancing in a future post.
Steve Parker, M.D.
PS: A few other sources that question the mainstream media’s and government narratives…
PPS: The history of the Coronavirus Pandemic will be written in the the next few years. I have no doubt it will look different than what we’re seeing now.
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