As I watch the stock market tank once again today (at this writing it’s down between 33 and 37% from its February highs) I get angrier and angrier. At our elected legislators in Washington who still can’t seem to compromise on a promised 2 trillion dollar stimulus plan. At the public health doctors who have panicked mayors and governors and ordinary people while they close down everything in sight and destroy what was still a pretty strong economy. And of course at President Trump who wouldn’t listen to the intelligence and CDC people as they warned, starting in January, there was a coronavirus tsunami coming. So here we are. Half of America under orders to stay home. See no one. Do nothing. Home school the restless kids. Work from home while you do it. Don‘t even go for a long run. Or bike ride. Or walk with your friends. Short, short. Even though exercise is the one thing that might boost your immune system to stave off the virus. Oh – and don’t go near Grandma who needs to be isolated from the only thing many older people care about. Family.
Meanwhile companies big and small are closing down. Stopping production. Closing small restaurants and shops vital to our sense of normalcy. And gyms vital to our total health. Many of these probably closing down forever. Only businesses and operations seen by governors as essential can continue to operate. There are predictions of a 30% unemployment rate as laid off workers – so many of them in our new gig economy not covered by guaranteed, salaried employee benefits like unemployment – start piling up.
Yes we have a health crisis. It’s not only the President who wasn’t prepared. The CDC wasn’t prepared with the simple test the rest of the world has been using so successfully. The FDA wasn’t prepared – wrapping it’s overly red tape even tighter instead of cutting it early on. The state governors weren’t prepared. The hospitals big and small weren’t prepared. And certainly the publicly traded insurance companies and PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers) which essentially run what passes for the US health care system weren’t prepared. After encouraging hospitals for decades to pare back their general hospital rooms and ICUs and ability to handle any kind of health crisis from any source. And embrace financially rewarding elective surgery instead. While hospitals in less populated areas simply closed. Do telemedicine they suggested. Forgetting many rural areas don’t even have wifi or 5G mobile capability.
So of course there is panic everywhere. Not enough tests (only now ramping up). Not enough protective clothing and masks for medical workers. Not enough hospital beds or ICUs or ventilators. So the rest of us have to stay home and give up human contact lest we turn into Italy.
As CNBC’s Jim Cramer said early on, “no country wants to be Italy”.
So after a week or two of incredible stock market plunges and home arrest in the most populous US states – influential people are beginning to look at the destruction of everything – and worry that we may save lives but have no economy, no savings, no COUNTRY to creep back to. Suggestions are popping up for some kind of middle ground. For only 2 or 3 week shutdowns – 14 days for the incubation period of COVID19 and a week for evaluation. For quarantining only older people. As a group. Despite the fact that many are strong, healthy, athletic and very fit. Medication and underlying conditions free. With the immune systems of people much younger. Older people with health problems, like younger ones, know who they are and are likely to stay 6 feet away from anyone voluntarily.
Bottom line. We are social people. Even the millennials and Gen Z-ers who live digitally on their phones move around in real groups of real friends. The main reason everything is now shut down. Sure. We can all sacrifice the small pleasures which make life livable for a short time. But not indefinitely. People simply CANNOT live with “indefinitely”. A word far too many public health doctors and government officials are using.
Isn’t it time for end dates? So we have something to look forward to? So the economy has a reasonable chance at regeneration? Maybe targeted, rolling shutdowns only in hot spots like big cities. And then only for those 2 or 3 weeks. To slow the virus’ spread. Remembering that the more people who get the virus and either don’t show symptoms or recover quickly – the faster we may get that herd immunity which has helped with other viruses. Although of course we still don’t know if this NOVEL coronavirus reacts the same way.
We all have seen that graphic with the two curves. We have heard “flatten the curve” over and over. We understand. But you simply can’t lock us up forever.