After multiple conversations with many respected clients in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, I wanted to broach a subject that has caused some in our nation a shame-storm of criticism. I want to suggest that our public remedy, specifically our one-size-fits-all approach to Coronavirus, will soon have an irreversible impact on our country for 2020 and beyond, and that it risks untold damage to companies and entire industries if we continue on this path much longer—and to the lives of the millions of people who work in them.
Most of you know me as a fact-based analytic. I make recommendations based on evidence, context, the preponderance of the evidence, and the common sense that one develops over 30 years in private practice. Today, I’m again weighing in from that same position, to put the current crisis in a proper context. Some will say that any cost/benefit analysis is insensitive, or that “it places economic progress ahead of human life.” I beg to differ, but I am sure there will be those who are inclined to shame me as they have others.
Let’s look at the facts thus far:
As of today, Sunday, April 5th, the coronavirus has infected 1.25 million people worldwide, with 95% of those infected having mild symptoms. In the U.S., over 8500 people have died “with or from” the coronavirus, a death rate of 26 people per 1 million population. In Sweden, one of the few countries in the world that has not quarantined their entire population, over 400 people have died, a death rate of 40 people per 1 million of population. Incidentally, I say “with or from coronavirus” because one of the more recent scandals in this crisis involves the number of physicians in New York City who are calling TV networks and talk radio stations to say that hospitals there are making no distinction between whether or not coronavirus was the cause of death, or something that complicated a pre-existing condition—either of which could have been the cause of death.
The overwhelming evidence shows that the virus is especially brutal on people who are elderly or already immuno-compromised, overweight, or suffering from diabetes, heart disease, or are in a weakened condition due to recent treatments like chemotherapy. In addition, since these health issues tend to occur in older populations, people over 60 are encouraged to be especially careful in their comings and goings, and avoid unnecessary exposure. Most of us already know all of this.
Now, let’s put that in some context. The virus has been active in the United States since late January. The original modeling for how many millions of people were going to become infected and die from coronavirus included up to 20 million people worldwide, a figure that even the authors of those original early models have since disavowed.
So, while 8500 Americans have already died from coronavirus, let me share a few other statistics from our CDC regarding the other causes of death in the United States last year: Heart disease killed just under 650,000 people. Cancer took another 600,000. Accidental injury killed another 170,000. Stroke 146,000, Alzheimer’s disease 121,000, diabetes 84,000, influenza and pneumonia another 56,000, and over 47,000 Americans committed suicide last year. These deaths represent the ambient background noise of everyday life in America, totaling over 2.8 million Americans per year, a figure we accept, believing that death is a part of life, that actions have consequences, even as their families celebrate the lives they’ve lost, and the rest of the nation goes about their daily lives.
So here are some questions we need to be asking ourselves:
Our health officials give us mixed messages. On the one hand, “we need to flatten the curve”, continue quarantining and social distancing for many more weeks until we get out of flu season and those infected are able to overcome the invisible killer. On the other hand, they tell us that our immune systems are naturally able to fight off the virus in 95% of the population, and that the resulting antibodies in our “convalescent plasma” are harvestable and even injectable into the bloodstreams of the frail and elderly now in ICU, assisting with their recoveries. If we take at face value the fact that this virus is highly contagious, and that fully half of those who have it are asymptomatic—isn’t it also possible that half of the millions now sitting in home quarantine may have already had it, are in fact now immune to it, and could go back to work? Presently, we don’t yet have enough tests that can determine this, so continued vigilance is the order of the day.
For the cautious among you who would argue that the worst thing we can do is resume our daily lives prematurely—lest the virus come back in a second wave and prove the modelers right—allow me to point out that we already have proof that that won’t happen: There are two economies currently operating in the United States. The first economy is active, working, hiring, and “delivering essential goods and services.” These include people working in food production, energy production, grocery chains, police and fire departments, restaurants operating with curbside pick-up and delivery, gas stations and auto repair shops, insurance agencies, banks, financial institutions, medical offices, pharmacies, marijuana shops, liquor stores, golf courses, and all of our major big box stores and the warehouses at Amazon, Walmart, Costco, Target, and many, many more. These people are social distancing in the workplace, avoiding infection, and thriving amid increased demand, many with help-wanted signs offering bonuses. The second economy constitutes everyone else, waiting in home quarantine while their retail businesses fail, awaiting their first unemployment check, watching the fabric of our economy crumble at an alarming pace, week by week. That first thriving economy is proof that the suffering of the second economy is unnecessary. This virus—nay, our reaction to this virus—has now resulted in our 50 Governors picking the winners and losers of the 2020 economy.
Seven weeks ago, we had the strongest economy in American history. Seven more weeks of this, and our nation will be unrecognizable. As Americans, we have survived many tragedies. Over 618,000 Americans died during the Civil War, and thousands died in other wars for the rights that we enjoy, and for the blessings that their children would inherit. I have yet to talk to a single client in their 70s or 80s, or even younger clients yet to retire suffering from a medical condition, who are willing to risk the loss of the nation they grew up in, over the inconvenience of their own self-isolation for a few more weeks. “By all means, the rest of you should go back to work soon. Even if you catch this thing, 99% of you will survive it. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine when it’s over,” they say.
It’s not too late to avoid what’s coming. But we can’t play chicken with an Economic Depression for too much longer.