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Opinion

Covid-19: Nothing's Deadlier Than Not Acting Now


Last week President Trump announced that he will be making the "toughest decision" of not just his presidency but his life: When and how to open our Covid-ravaged country again.

During the same week, Dr. Fauci fanned media flames by stating that there was "push back" to his recommendations to shut down the economy back in February, yet admitted he solely assesses information from a health perspective. Herein lies the rub. This is not a life and death decision, but a death and more death and destruction decision.

The monolithic judgment call to essentially stop nearly all economic activity and all social interaction in America is to gut not just businesses and jobs, but the livelihoods and dreams of hundreds of millions of Americans and their families. When you kill an economy, you sentence a person, their family, and their future generations to death.

In addition, the knock-on effects, such as the likelihood of increased domestic violence, drug abuse, and suicides, the lack of regular health care maintenance and schooling of our children -- is just as crippling. Protecting the health of our people from this highly infectious disease is critical, but if this shut down continues as is, there will be nothing left to protect.

The country cannot be governed by doctors, but by elected officials who understand that we must immediately implement measures to balance viral containment and mitigation with effective social and economic policies that protect our inalienable rights and throw our country and its people an urgent lifeline.

We don't need another "stimulus" package. We need our lives back. We need our jobs back. We need a paycheck. Covid-19 is deadly, but not as fatal as our failure to act now.

While most of us are hunkered down in our isolated bunkers, the reality of what's really going on can get quite fuzzy. One can barely remember what day it is much less keep track of the latest doomsday scenario or extended lock-down deadline. It's like we've become holed-up zombies, our minds stunted by the torturous swing of life's pendulum between some sort of dark Malthusian post-apocalyptic dystopia and defiant faith in straw-grasping contrarian silver linings. The dire projections and death models over the last few months would turn even the most hard-nosed skeptics among us into germaphobic hypochondriacs, obsessive compulsively clearing throats to check for symptomatic soreness and furiously typing into Google anti-Malaria drugs no one can pronounce much less spell.


Exaggerated Projections

Remember when the CDC was guesstimating that 1.7M Americans could die from Covid-19? How about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's and Stuart Thompson's tsunami of a peaking curve published mid-March, suggesting that 10M Americans could get infected, and a 10% conversion rate would mean a million could die.

As of today, approximately two million people out of the entire world's 7.8 billion population have been infected, approximately 125,000 have died, and 465,000 have recovered from Covid-19.

And then there are the ever-correcting models everyone is ironically using as the holy grail of draconian government policy-making. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), for example, has more than halved its wildly exaggerated projections of U.S. Covid-related deaths from 126,703 to approximately 60,000 by August. IHME reps have also stated that as more data is collected, the forecast may drop to around 31,000. To put this in perspective, 60,000 is the number of Americans who died during the 2017 flu season. What's more, according to the CDC, in 2018 alone, we lost 606,000 Americans to cancer, 88,000 to alcoholism, 83,000 to diabetes, 67,000 to drug overdose, and 50,000 to suicide.

Covid-19 is very serious. Every life not saved from this deadly disease is a profound tragedy, and certain measures to curb its spread and protect the vulnerable are critical. But alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering only create greater panic and confusion. If anything, they lead the population to lose faith in the process, which could back fire very, very badly, as we are seeing civil rights protests flare up in cities across the country. Everything right now is in constant flux as data and assumptions are rapidly changing, which means not even the brainiest virologist can currently determine how all of this is going to end up.

Is subversive Sweden going to pull the most epic hat trick ever or end up looking as moronic as mouth-breathing spring breakers twerking their way to infection in Fort Lauderdale? No one knows right now, but currently the entire country of Sweden has fewer cases and deaths than the state of Michigan.


For the Greater Good

Americans have accepted the current lock down and put their lives and civil liberties on hold for the greater good. But most have swallowed their inalienable rights based on the premise that it was temporary in order to "flatten the curve."

There's no better way to plant the seeds of unrest in a populace than bait-and-switch behavior displayed by a politician on a power trip. All current data show that Americans are towing the line and flattening the curve. Pointing to the reduction in Covid-related infections, hospitalizations, ICU bed use and intubations, Gov. Cuomo stated this week that the "worst was over," while only weeks ago he was talking about a peak where 140,000 beds and 40,000 ventilators would be required. Things are looking up in states like California too, where Gov. Newsom recently sent 500 state-owned ventilators to the national stockpile so other states in greater need could use them. Therefore, it's promising that New York and California are responding to positive signs by starting to speak with their bordering neighbors about how they ease current restrictions and open their respective economies.

Even with such discussions moving in the right direction, it's hard to relax until we are given a hard deadline of when the shutdown will end. It's easy to lose faith in a process when the goal posts keep changing, there's another lockdown extension tacked on, and our lives and livelihoods remain indefinitely on hold.

States like Michigan, where ICU bed counts have been slashed and more patients are being discharged than admitted, seem to have no interest in responding to changing data or weighing the risks of their policies vs. the costs. Indeed, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has tightened restrictions, prohibiting all gatherings even in the privacy of your own home. In big box stores you can only buy food or medication, but selling or purchasing furniture, plants, and DIY materials like paint are criminal offenses. We witnessed the same in Mississippi where eight police cars rocked up on Easter Sunday to stop a pastor from hosting a socially distanced drive-thru service, all the while down the road you could pick up whatever tipple you fancied at the local drive-thru liquor store. Then there was the father arrested in Colorado for playing ball with his daughter. And what's the rhyme or reason to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's June 10 stay-at-home deadline, which is the longest in the country. This order expires one day after a June 9 Republican primary to nominate an opponent to VA Dem. Sen. Mark Warner, so many Republicans are claiming the order will negatively effect voter turnout and other spring conventions and primaries to rally the base. And while New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says he plans on tightening not loosening measures in light of the latest reduced Covid numbers, leave it to Florida to stay freaky and consider making the WWE an essential business. If all this weren't true, it would be funny.

This charade of what was our real lives can't continue, where neighbors turn isolation-break snitches and rebel citizens resembling masked escapees risk non-essential shopping felonies. A future of expressionless faces, shake-less hands, and no hugs.

Real-Life Russian Roulette

Essential vs. non-essential, criminal vs. non criminal, open vs. closed, lockdown vs. reopening: this Russian roulette with our lives all starts to feel like subjectivity rather than objectivity and has a literal stranglehold on current public narrative and policy.

Is this about health or creeping social control?  

And it's not just in the states. From TV talking heads and former Obama Special Health Advisor Zeke Emanuel to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, NYT columnist and economist Paul Krugman and even Bill Gates -- all want to keep drastic lockdown measures in place for months. By far the most outrageous is Mr. Emanuel's belief that the shutdown as it is will have to stay in place for a year and half until a vaccine or other extremely effective preventative is found. If you didn't shrug your shoulders and balk, your eyes would bleed.

What's important to point out is that most of these anti-openers above are multimillionaires, even a billionaire, and all have good high-paying jobs. Let's just say they're not desperately waiting for their next pay check.

It's ironic to think that those who profess their support for the vulnerable are so vehemently opposed to start the discussion on reopening the economy when it's minorities and those at the lowest rungs of the income ladder who are hurt the most by this shutdown.

This is not just about the slow death of the economy and civil liberties, but our country as a whole. The fallout from possibly 20M Americans being unemployed by the end of April is hard to grasp much less swallow. If the shut down continues, the jobless claims do too. And so do the bankruptcies and suicides, the broken dreams, marriages and homes... While we wait on the sidelines, our financial, physical and mental health are starting to flatline.

Science Not Politics?

Governors have stated that "science, not politics" will determine how and when they reopen. But where's the science to justify what many of them are currently doing? Overall, the majority of indicators show that we are flattening the curve across the country. Most epidemiologists also believe that as a virus makes its way through a population it starts to weaken. In China, the virus started off with a bang and was very active, but then it started to decline. It becomes attenuated over time. South Korea and Taiwan didn't implement mass quarantines and drastic lock downs, but focused on isolating at-risk populations and those who were infected.

Clearly testing must be ramped up and rolled out to get clearer data and protect populations from further outbreaks. It's also morally imperative that our hospitals are adequately supplied for another possible outbreak. We have to have a medical system that's capable of accommodating a bad decision. Some experts have suggested additional help from the National Guard, which currently has more than 9,000 troops mobilized in every U.S. state and territory to help with mobile testing, logistics, transportation and other non-law enforcement support to civilian authorities. Others have recommended Silicon Valley get more involved with their access to the most advanced digital aggregation tools, however that sends chills up most freedom-loving Americans' spines.

Testing all Americans in one fell swoop seems unrealistic, so a targeted piecemeal approach across states and counties, or maybe even companies, may initially be the best bet to get those who are not infected or immune back to work. Another idea is to roll out mass testing across every pharmacy local to a community to make it as convenient as possible. Whatever the form it takes, the testing must be expanded and expedited now. We must be on a war-time footing.


Decision of a Lifetime

If mitigation while remaining open isn't a big enough task, getting the economics right going forward is even bigger.

Sadly a part of the latest "stimulus" package was more symbolic than economically effective, and that's disappointing considering it's monster-truck size price tag with all its non-emergency "goodies." We all know that the government only has $2 trillion to hand out based on economic growth from our productive citizens that’s already occurred. And we all know deep down that deficit spending and inflation don't create prosperity - incentives do.

Providing liquidity to intrinsically solvent companies and industries is the right thing to do to get them back on their feet after being sucker punched by an exogenous factor that was no fault of their own.

Another critical incentive is to make work and employing workers more attractive. A one-year suspension of the payroll tax would give workers an immediate pay raise, and it would also lower the cost for employers to get and keep people on the payroll. A win-win all around, and a big bump for production to feed shrunken supplies.

I don't envy President Trump or any leader during this unprecedented period. This is a decision of a lifetime. The risks and costs must be weighed carefully at each step. There is still much uncertainty, but one thing is for sure. Nothing is deadlier than not acting now.

About the Author

Rachel Laffer

Rachel Laffer has worked in politics, economics and finance in the U.K., Europe and the U.S. She currently works for her family business, Laffer Associates.

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