Op-Ed: A Common-Sense Approach to the COVID-19 Pandemic

F jv461sqy0My OpEd ran in today’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Enjoy!

As I mentioned in my last Op-Ed (Singapore made the right moves regarding COVID-19), I am highly critical of the United States’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. To protect Americans from this deadly virus, the government decided to shut down the entire country except for “essential” workers. But who gets to decide who is essential? And essential to what? And to whom?

Naturally, government defined essential workers as those essential to the government itself. That disastrous distinction has brought about the unemployment of over 17 million Americans to date. This point was made exceptionally clear when Governor Inslee ordered all construction in Washington stopped, except on government projects, because Government construction is essential whereas private construction is not.

Rather than isolating the infected, quarantining the exposed and those especially vulnerable, and social distancing everyone else, America is treating everyone as infected. Apart from essential workers, everyone is locked down.

Yet that great capitalist nation of Sweden has taken a completely different approach. Children continue attending school, and adults keep working and enjoying pubs. The streets of Stockholm are as busy now as they were last Spring, filled with people drinking on restaurant patios.

What medical testing is Sweden doing to allow this to happen? They are only testing people with symptoms of the virus who need immediate medical treatment. Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, posted on her 24 March Instagram account that she and her dad came down with the Covid-19 virus:

“My dad experienced the same symptoms, but much more intense and with a fever. In Sweden you can not test yourself for COVID-19 unless you’re in need of emergent medical treatment. Everyone feeling ill are told to stay at home and isolate themselves. I have therefore not been tested for COVID-19, but it’s extremely likely that I’ve had it, given the combined symptoms and circumstances.”

The vast majority of Swedes are untested, just as in the US. But since they only test to confirm the disease, their outbreak appears worse numerically.

Swedes are being criticized for not taking starker measures. We seem to think that the harsher the lockdown, the more the government cares for its citizens. But what about the 17 million Americans thrown out of jobs over the last three weeks? For politicians, that is collateral damage. Curiously, no one receiving a government paycheck is deemed non-essential and laid off. Meanwhile, unemployment of unessential Americans hit 14.7% and is projected to reach 25%.

One factor no one discusses is the impact caused by unemployment. A famous study commissioned during the economic depression of 1974-1975 by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and conducted by Dr. Harvey Brenner (PhD in Medical Sociology from Yale University) showed that for every 1% increase in unemployment, 40,000 people die. That number has been confirmed in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and other Western European countries. These studies looked at the effect of unemployment on suicides, heart attacks, strokes, alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses, violence, etc.

The unemployment rate in the US went from 3.5% before the C-19 lockdown to a projected 25%. Per Dr. Brenner’s research, 860,000 non-essential Americans may die — more than fifteen times than from the virus itself.

If death is the ultimate impact of unemployment, how many more are impacted in lesser but profound ways? Many have to deal with the consequences of domestic violence, failed marriages, childhood trauma, increase in crime, etc. Others turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve the pain and boredom. Wedding ceremonies and funerals have been shut down, and those dying of coronavirus are forced to die alone.

Virgil has a famous proverb: aegrescit medendo, or “the cure is worse than the disease.” The course taken by our politicians is significantly more harmful than if we had taken the common-sense approach to pandemics: isolate the infected, quarantine the vulnerable and exposed, and carry on with life as normal with sensible precautions against the virus.

It appears the lockdown will be lifted incrementally during May and June, but the second wave of coronavirus is predicted to immediately follow. When that happens, we need to insist that politicians not lock down Americans they deem to be non-essential but take the common-sense approach to the pandemic.

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