We’re all a little on edge. That’s only natural, as a pandemic spreads across the globe. What started as a casually referenced virus originating in Wuhan, China has turned into a maelstrom of fear. It is affecting every aspect of life and people of every socioeconomic status. People across the country feel its effects wrapping around them. It’s suffocating and palpable.
I’m a physician by trade, a pathologist to be exact. I work in Indiana and spend most weekends in my beautiful home state of Kentucky with my son and family. The Midwest, like all other parts of this fine nation, is saturated with fear. What are we so afraid of? It’s more than just a virus. It’s uncertainty. That’s the disease that is currently eating this country alive. The virus is bad enough, but the fear accompanying it is metastasizing at an increasingly alarming rate. We have to really look at the source of this uncertainty. Unfortunately, it’s our government.
What are we so afraid of? It’s more than just a virus. It’s uncertainty.
I don’t disparage the efforts from the people dealing with this pandemic. Not at all: these are in many cases top-of-the-line professionals, with decades of experience, all working ridiculously long hours under enormous amounts of pressure. This includes folks at the local, state, and federal levels of government. It must be incredibly tough. I truly salute them and their intentions. They are doing an excellent job, but are they doing the right job? Or are they making the situation worse?
Overnight, states across the country are handing down gargantuan edicts from on high, in the name of public health. I do understand the dilemma. Our officials want to keep us safe from this disease, and medical health experts have given helpful guidelines for slowing the spread of the virus. But with the stroke of a pen, the governors of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio (states where I spend considerable time and money) essentially have shut down the world. No dining at restaurants. No public school. No hair salons. No theaters. No sporting events. Not much of anything, to be honest. Everything must close, they say, to save us and keep us from spreading the virus!
That may very well be true. I ask though, at what cost? How can we intentionally cripple our economy and think that it will end in anything other than a complete and utter disaster? The longer this goes on, the more harm it will do. True, nobody wants grandma to get COVID-19, but another serious question arises: do we want grandma’s family to be able to eat in a couple months? This isn’t hyperbole at this point. We need to be able to protect people from coronavirus and financial ruin and its consequences. The government cannot simply print up a fresh trillion bucks each month and pass it out to supposedly keep everybody sustained. This destroys the value of our currency. It simply kicks the can down the road and adds to an already unbelievable amount of federal debt. This clearly is not a winning long-term strategy. It’s a Band-Aid, and every day we wear it, it gets weaker.
There may be more targeted ways to slow spread of the virus that wouldn’t completely destroy our economy.
We are trying to live apart from this virus. It will not work. That’s just a fact of nature. It is just as much a part of the world now as we are, and we have to first learn to live with it if we are ever going to beat it. We must fight it, but not by staying at home with windows barred. The contention that we need a more focused approach to our quarantine strategy is gaining traction, as best evidenced by a recent New York Times opinion piece from Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH, the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. In his estimation, there may be more targeted ways to slow spread of the virus that wouldn’t completely destroy our economy. Focusing our efforts on protecting the elderly, people with chronic conditions, and the immunocompromised would likely be a more prudent and less economically devastating approach. There are no easy answers to this conundrum.
I understand and share the desire to keep folks safe. I’ve devoted my entire career to people’s health and well-being. In regards to our current situation, let me be blunt: If you are a person with an underlying respiratory illness, an elderly person, or both, you should stay home. Your risk of a poor outcome from this disease is higher than most, and that’s something you definitely need to understand. You may want to take personal steps to stay safe by staying away from the world for a while. Social distancing and sheltering in place, the religious mantras of today’s world that literally didn’t exist two weeks ago, are a good idea. But what about the rest of us?
The edicts from on high have literally stopped our economy. People must be allowed to return to work so they can provide goods and services to those of us who are willing to take the risk and rejoin them in commercial society. The longer our current economic moratorium goes on, the closer we drive ourselves toward a serious recession, if not a depression. Think of the enormous harm to public health that comes with lack of basic necessities, food sources, electricity, even running water. This may sound alarmist today, but it won’t sound that way three months from now if the government keeps suppressing our capitalist economy. Much like spread of the virus, the reactionary harm to the economy will follow a similar exponential curve. We simply cannot stop the world from turning and expect a good outcome. The policies we enact going forward should be aimed at not only saving people’s lives but also preserving the economy that sustains them.
Reed Spaulding IV, MD, is a practicing pathologist who grew up in rural Kentucky and now splits his time between Kentucky and Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @SpauldingMd.