As we move into fall of 2020, we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
As we do, the basic question remains unanswered: what is the ‘end game’? What are we trying to achieve? It seems like a basic question and yet we don’t have an answer. And until we do, we will continue to stumble along with no clear idea of where we are headed.As a result, we continue to be haphazard in our approach and continue to change direction every time we think we get new information. From lockdowns to easing restrictions, back to lockdowns and everything in between.
The original goal, such a long time ago it seems, was to ‘flatten the curve’. The fear was that the spike in cases would overwhelm hospitals and so the goal was to flatten the spike so that the cases didn’t come in a short period and exceed the capacity of hospitals. We did that—the curve was flattened and there isn’t a danger of hospitals being overwhelmed anymore. Hospitals canceled all non-emergency services to be prepared for an influx of corona virus cases and everywhere with areas around New York City, it wasn’t an issue. In some places such as Nashville, for example, hospitals were making plans for makeshift hospital beds in parking garages and other contingencies but ended up with record law hospital bed occupancy, fortunately.
So once that goal was accomplished, what’s the goal? What are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to eliminate the virus? Well, that won’t ever happen. It will be with us from now on just as SARs, H1N1, the flu and other viruses.
It seems that we implicitly have set a goal is to be able to get us to the point where we have a vaccine. If we get there soon, it will be a huge sigh of relief. And it may happen; the country has moved with impressive quickness to get a vaccine. It’s a comment on the benefit of capitalism that we are in the final stages of human trials in less than 10 months, and that we have several companies that are trying several different approaches in case some fail.
But there is no guarantee that one of the vaccines will work. And if a vaccine does work, what if it is like the flu vaccine and is ineffective about 2/3 of the time? What then?
For as much as we hear talk of ‘a new normal’, we can’t go on like this. The economic devastation has been as bad as, and come more quickly then, the Great Depression. And, unfortunately, it’s going to get worse. In October, the federal government bailouts to the airlines and travel industry expire and without a new influx of money there will be massive additional layoffs. And many of the job losses that we thought were temporary are turning into permanent as the pandemic as gone on longer than first thought.
The biggest impacts have been on people who can least afford it—those in service industry jobs that generally earn lower wages, and small businesses that don’t have big banks that will float them money, Yet we are also starting to see impacts to big business and how worried even the most profitable enterprises have become. Look no farther than college sports. Three conferences that said they would not play fall sports (Big 10, Pac-12 and MAC) have recently reversed their decisions and announced that they will play a modified schedule this fall and participate in bowl games. Why? It’s not because the pandemic situation has gotten better. Quite the contrary with students returning to campuses. No, it’s that a loss of revenue, coming on top of the cancelation of March Madness would doom college sports and many local economies and businesses that depend on college sports to survive.
That’s just one example. Add to all that the problem that the federal government is spending money to help that will take literally decades to pay off.
In addition to the economic devastation, there have been impacts on mental health, delayed treatments for other serious diseases due to restrictions and other things that are difficult to quantify.
We simply can’t go on like we have. Economic, health and social impacts will soon make the cure far worse than the disease. We all hope that an effective, widely available vaccine is found by the end of the year. If it isn’t, we need to force our leaders to tell us what goal we are working toward. Not to decide, is to decide on disaster.