Do We Permit a Virus to Destroy Our Economy?
America is shutting down. Restaurants and bars are closing. Businesses are reducing hours. People are being laid off. Unemployment may reach Great Depression highs. Store shelves are empty. People are hoarding. The stock market has collapsed. In the short span of just a few weeks, we have descended from a high-flying economy – the envy of the world – into the abyss. We now have a small taste of what it feels like to live in a socialist nation or how things might look if Bernie Sanders becomes President.
Why has this happened? How could it happen? How could the greatest and strongest republic in the history of the world be brought to its knees by a virus that has so far infected a tiny fraction of the number of people who are sickened by influenza annually? Every year, 50,000 Americans die due to the flu or complications related to it ( especially pneumonia ). That’s almost 4,000 people per week during a typical 13-week flu season. The total number of Americans who have died in the four weeks since COVID-19 became a serious public health issue: about 115 or 29 per week.
Anyone old enough to recall the tragedy of polio during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s prior to the Salk vaccine can relate stories of perfectly healthy individuals ( including children ) waking up one morning and being unable to walk ( think of FDR at Campobello ). Many recovered. Some did not.
Are we overreacting? Will tanking the U.S. economy, throwing millions of Americans out of work and bankrupting entire industries cure the virus? Will destroying our economy make it any easier for hospitals to respond to the critically-ill? Will denying people paychecks and quarantining individuals in their homes help advance the cause of new antiviral drugs or a vaccine? Of course not. Certainly, social distancing and “shelter-at-home” orders might slow the spread of the disease, but at what cost? At the cost of people being unable to feed their families or pay the rent because they can’t go to work? Do we kill the patient to cure the disease?
Let’s get real. More than 80% of the people afflicted with COVID-19 will recover at home with rest, hydration and over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, many within a matter of days. Many healthy adults won’t even know they have it ( which raises the question, if it is so serious how come so many people will be asymptomatic? ). It is true that for a small percentage of adults—mostly over 65 with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems – the risk of complications, even death, rises. Why aren’t we doing more to isolate the most vulnerable population in our society – our seniors – instead of those at very low risk of either infection or serious illness?
We cannot be a nation under martial law. We are a free people. We are a free nation. Forcing people to close their businesses and stay at home indefinitely is unAmerican and will capsize our nation, dragging down the global economy with it. Wiping out the retirement savings of tens of millions through panic on Wall Street is unAmerican.
Again, folks, let’s get real. Too much damage has already been done and we need to step forward to mitigate any additional damage to people’s lives and livelihoods.
Instead of mass quarantines, let’s address the most critical issue involved in this crisis: having enough staff and resources in our local hospitals to treat those small numbers of individuals who will require life-saving intervention as a result of COVID-19. It is beyond belief that a nation that won two World Wars and conquered space cannot produce enough hospital beds and ventilators to deal with any potential flood of patients. The President’s decision to invoke the Defense Production Act to greatly boost needed medical supplies makes sense as does his action to permit doctors to work across state lines. Let’s focus on the supply side of this crisis by ensuring enough medical staffing and hospital facilities to meet anticipated needs while isolating our most vulnerable populations. Otherwise, let’s get America back to work.
To address the enormous damage that has been inflicted on the U.S. economy already through this pandemic of panic, let’s help those who may be losing jobs or paychecks. We don’t need to have the Federal Reserve engage in an orgy of money-printing to benefit the big banks, which amounts to little more than food stamps for the rich. We don’t need to punish savers by embarking on zero or negative interest rates. Let’s do what Germany did during the crash of 2008, help businesses meet their payrolls for workers suffering reduced hours during this crisis. Extend unemployment benefits as we have often done during recessions. Suspend estimated tax payments for businesses for the rest of the year as well as enact a payroll tax holiday. Call in the big banks and tell them to suspend mortgage payments for the rest of the year. They can afford it. We bailed them out a dozen years ago to the tune of $850 billion and they are getting free cash every day from the Fed. It’s time Wells Fargo, BofA, and Chase gave something back to their country.
Yes, we can end this crisis and we can do it soon. However, it will only get worse with permanent, long-term consequences far beyond a cough and fever if we don’t ratchet down the hysteria and get our economy back on its feet now. “Flattening the curve” cannot occur at the cost of flattening our nation.
Dr. James Veltmeyer is a prominent La Jolla physician voted “Top Doctor” in San Diego County in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Dr. Veltmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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