By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Unknown
Wirepoints made the case in COVID-19: Seven facts that tell us Illinoisans can and must get back to work, that deaths will extend far beyond the virus if the economy isn’t reopened soon. Recessions and depressions kill. Interwoven in economic declines are deaths from bad health, poverty, opioid abuse, suicide, domestic violence and depression. We don’t need models to know that, just past experience.
It’s not a trivial concern to be dismissed out of hand. The Congressional Budget Office now predicts the virus will trigger the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Others warn of worse.
But dismiss is exactly what opponents of a reopening do, declaring those that want to return to work are exchanging lives for money or “throwing grandma under the bus.” They are often so vitriolic in their attacks that you can’t help but think they know little about the pain and suffering that accompanies a recession. Maybe too many of them have had it too good for too long.
And here’s the tragic irony. The longer a lockdown continues, the more likely it is that the deaths attributable to economic devastation will overtake the number of direct COVID-19 deaths, says Prof. Joseph Pagliari of University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. And the victims will be our country’s most vulnerable.
The warnings are overwhelming. After just five weeks, nearly 30 million Americans are unemployed. And if the Federal Reserve of St. Louis’ 32 percent unemployment predictions are right, it will soon reach 50 million. The suffering Americans can expect to endure is tangible:
“Every 1 percent hike in the unemployment rate will likely produce a 3.3 percent increase in drug-overdose deaths and a 0.99 percent increase in suicides, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the medical journal Lancet…If unemployment hits 32 percent, some 77,000 Americans are likely to die from suicide and drug overdoses as a result of layoffs.”
The reality is nobody knows and understands what havoc this shutdown will bring. Never before have we experienced an on-demand shut down of our economy. It’s unprecedented.
Preventing deaths, providing for the vulnerable
Opponents apparently forget the shutdown was put in place not to decrease the number of overall COVID-19 deaths but to spread them out over time. Experts across the nation have explained that barring a rapidly-created vaccine, everyone is eventually going to be infected.
In response, governments set out to “flatten the curve” to make sure hospitals were not overwhelmed in the early days of the outbreak. Illinois has largely accomplished that. Outbreaks appear to have peaked, and thankfully, neither the country nor the state ever ran out of hospital beds, ICU beds or ventilators. In fact, states across the country continue to build an excess supply.
Now Illinois’ strategy should shift toward limiting total deaths from both the virus and the economic downturn. We have so much more data than we did in mid-March when the shutdowns began. We can actually protect grandma better now.
We now know that those most at risk are victims with underlying causes. Ninety percent of COVID-19 victims had at least one comorbidity. The data from the CDC, New York, Italy, Louisiana, etc. is overwhelming. Those with underlying causes are the ones who by far need the most protection. Focus all the health and financial resources on them. Many will protect themselves via self-isolation, but many may need support depending on their health risk, income level, multi-generational homes, etc.
With the most-at risk demographics protected, the general population can return to work and begin to provide for themselves and the most vulnerable.
It no longer makes sense to “quarantine” the unhealthy and the healthy, i.e. the younger, un-compromised crowd. Quarantining everybody for an indefinite period is not a viable solution. It won’t work if you think about the math. The healthy should be back out in the workforce producing and earning a living so we can have an economy that can take care of the people who can’t take care of themselves, including the quarantined. And somebody needs to generate wealth so we can repay the trillions that we just spent.
Worst of both worlds
Illinois should be much smarter about how it’s approaching the COVID-19 crisis. If the state isn’t careful, it will end up with the worst of both worlds – a maximum number of deaths from both economic devastation and from COVID-19.
The developing tragedy can’t be ignored any longer. Wirepoints and others simply want Gov. Pritzker to include the tragedy’s human toll in the calculus behind his health and economic decision making. Right now, we don’t see any evidence he is.
There is room for reasonable debate about what to do. But by ignoring the human costs of the COVID-19 shutdown, opponents of reopening are throwing millions under the bus.
Read more about the impact of the Coronavirus on Illinois:
- The other curve: We’re not flattening it, it’s flattening us.
- Will Pritzker’s Attack on State Rep Who Blocked Stay-at-Home Order Trigger Section 1983 Lawsuits?
- COVID-19: Seven facts that tell us Illinoisans can and must get back to work
- COVID-19 pushes nation’s weakest public pension plans closer to the brink: A 50-state survey
- Wirepoints COVID-19 Impact page