As of this writing, COVID-19 has killed 38% more people in America than the flu did in the 2018-2019 flu season. In half the time. With a global shutdown. Never mind figuring out the true fatality rate, you can do the math with the raw number of deaths. For those who can't, this is not just like the flu.
Conversely, twice as many people are now unemployed in America than at the height of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. At 20.6%, we now have the highest unemployment level since 1934, during the Great Depression, but we're gunning for the U.S. record of 24.9% during that same time period. Again, you can do the math, and if you can't, that means one out of every five people in the workforce isn't working.
So is it worth it?
Tens of millions have lost their income, many of whom won't be able to get it back just because the states re-open. Businesses have been categorized as "essential" or "non-essential." Ask the person who can no longer pay their bills, and has to stand in line at the food bank to feed their children whether their job was essential. Some still call for the economy to remain shut down, offering catchy phrases like "Health before Wealth" and "People before Profits." Ask that mother or father in the food bank line whether their desire to return to work is based on a focus on "wealth" or "profit." The American economy is the single greatest engine for human prosperity in the history of the world, lifting more people out of poverty than anything, and it's not even close. We've brought that to a screeching halt, and not without far-reaching consequences.
For those who think that when the restrictions are lifted, America will just resume normal economic activity, think again. Our economy was a powerhouse until this happened. We can't just pick up where we left off for the simple reason that everyone who lost their income due to the virus (26 million at last count) didn't also lose their bills. While many have been given grace to pay later, they still must eventually pay, and people who are deprived of their livelihood for a month, two months, three months or more are going to be working for much longer than that to dig themselves out of this hole.
This means that while they're addressing the hole, their discretionary spending will be far less than it was previously. They're not going to go out to dinner. They're not going to buy that new pair of jeans. They're not going to go see that new movie. They're going to delay their haircut for a week or two, and eke a little more longevity out of everything they own. Businesses, particularly small businesses and independently-owned franchises, which already had thin margins and depended on that steady level of consumer spending, are going to go under, if they haven't already. Even if they manage to stay afloat, they're not going to be able to hire the people who now find themselves without a job. They may even have to let more of their employees go, because the well they've been drawing from for the past month to avoid laying off the employees they still have will eventually dry up.
To put it very simply: the economic impact of this pandemic is going to last far longer than the pandemic itself.
Speaking of which, for anyone who thinks by extending these shutdowns, we improve the chance of wiping out the virus--that was never going to happen. The point of all this to was to slow the spread, not prevent the spread, so that our hospital systems wouldn't be overwhelmed. They haven't been, even at the U.S. epicenter of New York City, and they haven't even come close anywhere else. Moreover, there's a fair chance this will be cyclical, returning this fall. It may not come back as hard, but do you think this country can take another economic shutdown? For how long? As an instructive case study, Sweden pointedly did not shut down their country. They isolated those at greatest risk, and let everyone else get on with life. Yes, they experienced deaths from the virus, but it seems no more than other countries, as a percentage of their population, and according to new reports, they may achieve herd immunity within weeks--all without destroying their economy.
We can't shut down again this fall, and we can't sustain this shutdown now. Nor do we need to, for one simple reason: businesses aren't risky--behaviors are risky. You don't get coronavirus from being outside, or buying groceries, or even getting your hair done--you get it from an infected person. Some businesses naturally lend toward riskier behavior, but to the extent that a businesses can operate in accordance with CDC guidelines, it should be able to. Many "essential" businesses have already adapted to the realities of the virus, by masking up, taking measures to ensure social distancing is maintained and the number of people in a space is limited, and sanitizing the living daylights out of everything.
We all do need to take precautions, even if we're not in an at-risk group, simply because any of us could be weaponized without knowing it. People can go for a week without showing any symptoms at all (if they ever do), and some studies have indicated people are most contagious before they ever develop symptoms. We should be able to go about our lives understanding there is risk, but with the assumption that others are taking reasonable precautions to mitigate the risk of infecting us--such as masking up. Similarly, when we get on the roads, where 40,000 people die in America every year, we do so understanding the risk, but with the assumption that the other people on the road are doing things to mitigate the risk of killing us--like getting their brakes checked. So return the favor, be responsible toward others, and mask up. Whether you want to wash your hands for 20 seconds when you get home is up to you, but I'd strongly advise it.
People are losing both their lives and their livelihoods, and it's tragic. We don't have to choose between the two. Hindsight is 20/20, and while it's too late to turn back the calendar and take the Sweden approach, it's not too late to learn from it and do the right thing moving forward. Ensure people are taking responsible measures to protect others, and let's restart the planet.