Let’s be as apolitical as possible and reason this out. Based on what we have learned thus far of COVID-19 and a still somewhat foggy but clearing future, there is only one rational route to take through the lifting fog.
First, there are four important premises on which to form the base for making the decision.
PREMISE ONE: Perhaps the most important “given” to accept is that whatever we do, more people will die. This is the brutal truth that no politician or media preener is willing to say, but is the one truth we know more than any other. We need a full and honest understanding that there are no magic unicorn solutions available. Every option we have means people dying. This is the harshest of all givens. COVID-19, or our most extreme measures to shut it down, will continue to kill Americans. Accept this truth, and the choice becomes clearer.
PREMISE TWO: We have no idea when — or even if — a vaccine will be available. Those people who think we should stay shutdown “until it is safe,” are on a fool’s errand. That’s the unicorn search. It’s not possible, not with COVID-19, not with the flu, not with cars, not with swimming, not with virtually anything in life. The very most optimistic estimates do not have a vaccine ready until January, and it is unknown when it can be deployed to 340 million Americans. Waiting even that long, the shortest possible time, would create a catastrophe from which we may never recover, and possibly cost as many lives due to the shutdown as would be saved due to the shutdown. Death from heart attacks, strokes, suicides, drug overdoses are just as real as deaths from COVID.
PREMISE THREE: We have treatments we are developing, but as with other coronaviruses and the flu virus, they will help but they will not cure or stop. They are merely aids that are probably saving lives now. We will refine those as we move forward, but no one says they are silver bullets, simply tools for the medical professionals to use to help some patients. And the ones available anytime soon are available now.
PREMISE FOUR: So without staying shut down for a vaccine or treatments, there is only one reason left for a shutdown: to keep hospitals and the medical system from being overwhelmed. Well, we can now confidently say that has not happened and will not happen. It is one of the few things we can be sure about. Even as horrific as New York was, it never came close to running out of ventilators or ICU beds. States that did not shut down or only partially did fared even better. Florida, supposed to get as bad as New York and Italy, did not reach a fraction of those levels even with the elderly population. Hospitals laid off idle workers due to elective surgeries being banned.
Without vaccines, treatments or flattening the curve to help hospitals, what is the rationale for continuing the shutdown? Well, nothing. There is no longer a viable reason — particularly if you can accept PREMISE ONE. If you cannot, then you are stuck waiting for the unicorns, and destined for disappointment — we’ll have deaths either way.
So if we do not stay shut down, and we accept that more deaths are inevitable with any choice, what’s left?
We re-open. Everything.
With only a few locally-driven exceptions, end the shutdowns and target resources heavily on protecting nursing homes, creating multiple layers of protection, i.e. extensive testing for staff, no visitors who have not been tested within, say, 48 hours, immediate removal of anyone showing symptoms to a pre-determined location, and perhaps more creative measures. At the same time, keep allowing local decisions. So the New York City metro area may want to remain shut down. Local decisions will still serve residents best over a one-size-fits-all.
We realistically cordon off the vulnerable elderly, specifically targeting nursing homes, along with those with comorbidities, and everyone else returns to a form of normal life.
We will rapidly see some things happen. First, it will serve as a catalyst to achieve greater amounts of immunity among the healthy, which reduces the risk for everyone, while returning us to pretty full economic activity — depending on how long the devastation from the shutdown lasts.
One fairly rapid development should be the replenishment of grocery store shelves. The food shortage, which could become severe, is not due primarily to COVID, but to the shutdown in response to COVID that has disrupted many portions of the supply chain. If one link is broken, perhaps there is a workaround. But if several are, we find ourselves in a situation where farmers are letting crops rot and dairy farmers are pumping and dumping milk. The chain broke through the shutdown. But that food shortage is resolved quickly by re-opening, while perhaps providing extra protections for some areas such as meat processors. More resources will be available if we are open.
But other things will also happen, and this is the brutal truth and hardest part. Let the virus move its way through the healthy population, as Sweden is doing, as Florida and Texas and some small midwestern states have partially done. COVID becomes another risk in our lives, like the hundreds of others we face every day.
Other things will happen. The graphs that have become a part of daily life will curve back up and people will react fearfully and ignorantly.
An important element for this being successful with the American people would be confident, calming leadership, something in short supply. Following his norm, many of President Trump’s decisions have been right and helpful, and arguably better than many other world leaders. But his temperament at the mic and on Twitter can be harmful. It isn’t always. I like to see him punch back as much as the next guy. But that is the wrong tactic in this sort of environment, particularly as we re-open and the numbers start creeping back up.
As long as you don’t only imbibe the spin of the #resist media, with some exceptions, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is actually becoming the gold standard on this. Like Trump, he pushed back against shutting down, and then only did a partial one, and is reopening again. On policy, they have been akin. But in tone, DeSantis has been calm, reassuring, and in charge. In fact, some Florida newspapers have grudgingly admitted as much.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, one of Gannett’s more influential papers in the state and steadfastly opposed to much of what DeSantis does, editorialized:
“…the governor’s calm demeanor during a rough stint of on-the-job training, and his repeated efforts to place pragmatism above politics by weighing available data before making decisions, have been commendable. And, we think, helpful overall.”
The reality is the charts will start curving up for a while. But remember PREMISE ONE, any choice we make from here, continued shutdown or re-opening, is going to mean people die. There will be no “safe” time to re-open. We cannot wait until January or January 2022 or maybe never for a vaccine, or for fully effective treatments. There are no silver bullets or magic pills in near enough time.
But there is a quick death of our economy and even way of life looming, and a potential spiral downward no one can really see the end of. That is far too much risk when we now know that protecting nursing homes will really diminish deaths — by 40 percent or more — and re-opening will provide more resources for nursing homes.
So we weigh it all and accept the trade-offs, ugly as they may be. Because long-term — which precious few politicians think in terms of — this will be better for quality of life, livelihoods and quite possibly the actual number of lives saved.
Rod Thomson is an author, past Salem radio host, ABC TV commentator, former journalist and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.
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