Commentary: Pushing post-COVID-19 restart? Think again!

By Arthur Sowers Ph.D.

Once the COVID-19 virus was recognized as being explosively infectious, almost every major country in the world rapidly initiated aggressive “lockdown” policies for the purposes of slowing down the rate of spread.

This was done to avoid the tragedy of more sick people going to a hospital than the hospital and its staff could handle. Some people call this “flattening the curve.” Scientifically, it is a valid strategy.

There are now plenty of data from the aggressive lockdowns — particularly from Italy and Spain — that this strategy does work.  The rates of new infections and deaths for the most part have been headed down.

Even with this, hospitals and their staffs have still had an additional workload way above and beyond any normal call of duty.  This has degraded the quality of service because of staff stress, resignations or terminations over disputes, staff illnesses and their own virus-caused deaths, and shortages and inadequacies in resources.

The next big battle, however, has just begun. It is the question of when and how we get the economy back to normal and who will be calling the shots. Some people are pushing to step on the gas ASAP. Others are saying we need to wait.  The medical issue is how big the second wave of infections will be once restrictions come down. 

The National Geographic website carries a short article full of graphics on what happened during the “1918 flu” pandemic. That flu made sick an estimated one quarter of the people in the world and killed 50 million of them. In just the USA, that flu killed 675,000 Americans.

Back then, an aggressive policy was used, too. It included social distance, bans on public gatherings, and closures of churches and schools. And it worked. But some of many cities were slow to start the lockdowns, and that led to more deaths. Early letups on the lockdowns led to big second waves of infections in at least six large cities. 

In two other examples, Sweden and South Dakota (where Smithfield closed a big plant in Sioux Falls because of the virus) did not establish early and aggressive policies towards the virus. Now it looks like they are going to get a greater number of avoidable deaths and sicknesses.

Everyone has a right to their opinion on getting back to normal. However, please think. Once a person dies, they won’t come back to life. And, each of those deaths is likely to have negative effects on several other people. Economic history tells us that all past recessions were followed by recoveries.

Could we not make a hasty decision on how and when we should start up the economy and maybe avoid more unnecessary suffering and death?

Arthur E. Sowers, PhD is a resident of Harbeson