Covid-19: How long can we continue social distancing?
Well, that didn’t take long, said Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. The number of illnesses and deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. is soaring, but only a week after his “tepid embrace of social distancing,” President Trump this week decided that “we can’t let the cure be worse than the problem.” On Fox News, Trump proclaimed that he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” April 12. This is, of course, madness. Given the disease’s 14-day incubation period, and the ease with which asymptomatic people transmit it, sending Americans back to work so soon will “risk the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions”—most of them the elderly and vulnerable. But Trump and his sycophants in the GOP have decided that 1 million or more deaths is a small price to pay for a resumption of the roaring economy on which Trump had pinned his hopes of re-election. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put it most chillingly, said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com, declaring that he and many seniors would gladly “take a chance” they’ll get and survive Covid-19 if it would save the economy for their children and grandchildren. I’m sorry, but as a grandfather myself, I “will not immolate myself on the altar” of your stock portfolio.
This is much larger than the stock market, said Jonathan Ashbach in TheFederalist.com. Yes, “it seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die,” but if the alternative is a full-blown economic depression leaving tens of millions jobless, broke, and hungry, is it really callous to wonder how long we can continue “to live huddled away in fear”? Scientists say a vaccine for the virus could be 12 to 18 months away, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. It simply is “not sustainable” to keep 330 million Americans at home that long. At some point the trade-off of public health and “economic survival” will become a pressing concern. We can’t “bankrupt the government” with endless trillions in borrowed bailouts; “wreck nearly every business in America, large and small”; create food shortages; and spark civil unrest as people rebel against prolonged restrictions. All that would be as “dangerous as the disease itself.”
The cure may be bad, but “the disease is worse,” said Aaron Carroll and Ashish Jha in TheAtlantic.com. If we let the pandemic rage unchecked, we could lose more people to Covid-19 “than have died in every single war this country has fought since its inception.” As doctors and nurses got sick, the health-care system would collapse. The “ripple effects” of that catastrophe on our economy—and our lives—would be “massive and uncontrolled.”
The reality is that “severe economic hardship” is unavoidable, said Jordan Weissmann in Slate.com. Our only sane choice is to take drastic action now—“an actual nationwide lockdown” lasting at least a month—that will greatly slow the virus’ spread, save countless lives, and give us the best chance of a “relatively quick, V-shaped recovery” once the number of new infections goes into decline. The notion that we can just restart the economy while the virus rampages through the population “is a fantasy,” said Jonathan Last in TheBulwark.com. Ending the social-distancing regimen prematurely will give us “the worst of both worlds: an out-of-control pandemic plus a ravaged, nonfunctional economy.” ■