Our economy is disintegrating, but we are getting a good start on COVID-19. We can handle a few weeks of staying home, but now isolation is turning into a shutdown disaster that could economically harm virtually every American. A stepped program, however, could addresses both concerns in what could be called a phase II of this struggle.
We can begin by recognizing our progress, sobering up to realities and taking deliberate steps. The first reality is that COVID-19 is a virus that exists worldwide and that, as all viruses, will reach virtually everyone on earth in the next year or two. Even our extreme isolation cannot adequately prevent exposure for long.
The second reality is that the best way to fight COVID-19 currently is with the antibodies in the people who have had the disease or who have been vaccinated.
The third reality is that COVID-19 is not the only threat to American people; an economic collapse will soon have its own devastating effect.
The alternative to these twin disasters is suggested in four steps:
Lift Many Restrictions in Early April — Once preventative measures are in place, gradually lift restrictions. What is meant by “in place”? We will have learned to do social distancing well. We will have protective clothing, masks and test kits and we will have started to produce ventilators at a WWII pace.
Let Those under Age 60 Return to Work — Since it is the over 65 age group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, let people under that age go back to work. Reopen restaurants, retail stores and malls, businesses and factories in early April. Allow meetings of up to 500.
Continue Isolating Restrictions on Those over 60 — Isolate the vulnerable part of the population. Continue restrictions on nursing homes and similar hotspots. Limit large sports events until conditions support ending that restriction.
Resume Normal Education — Allow children and smaller colleges to resume classes by May 4 so they and their teachers and administrators can finish the school year in some normalcy.
To summarize, yes, many will get COVID-19 but they will be the less vulnerable and they will form that essential recovered core of those with antibodies. The fear of infecting those at risk is far from zero but again COVID-19 exposure is coming over the next years in any case. Finally, if a vaccine appears this spring, we can move into Phase II even more confidently.
If these recommendations seem wild, consider that by late summer there will be a massive and unprecedented closure of businesses large and small. Virtually everyone will be in danger of unemployment. The federal government, at the least, will be tempted to nationalize the hospitals, drug companies and medical suppliers. Some degree of social chaos is likely. Moreover, a move against the United States by foreign enemies at this moment of vulnerability will become a real possibility.
Since it’s impossible to perfectly protect both the economy and citizens from a virus of this sort, the choice is a hard one between: a) a thoughtful easing of COVID-19 restrictions based on progress toward full protection; and b) putting the businesses and jobs of every American at risk in a decimated economy.
We do not have to burn down the house to get rid of the mice.
John A, Teevan, D.Min., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has worked in economics, theology and intercultural relations. He studied economics at Princeton before attending seminary. Teevan was a pastor for more than 30 years and founded the Social Concerns Committee of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Send comments to [email protected].