Political leaders stated that “if it saves one life” shutting down the economy via the quarantine is worth it, and if it is your life, or that of a loved one, you share that belief, passionately—strangers also, as truly, we the American people are all kin, all family. The willingness demonstrated by Americans to take the hit, watch their pensions disappear with dismay, their jobs evaporate, their freedoms to travel and assemble temporarily infringed, all for the common good, has been awe inspiring. Makes me proud—very.
It all happened so fast. The Chinese government and WHO told us until mid-January that humans couldn’t transmit to others. On Jan. 22, President Trump said it was “totally under control”; on Feb. 24, Speaker Pelosi was urging folks to visit Chinatown as it was safe and on Feb. 29, Dr. Fauci stated there was no need to change our habits. Suddenly, in early March, it turned grim. We watched countries fall like dominoes, shutting borders, mandatory quarantines, businesses closed. Projected deaths in the U.S. were over 1 million, subsequently reduced to 200,000 on March 19, if we took emergency measures. Stunning. In resigned disbelief, we watched as our schools were shuttered, air travel stopped, our borders were closed, professional sports and concerts were canceled, restaurants and businesses locked down. Billions, then trillions of dollars were churned out by the feds to blunt some of the economic pain, with an economy brought to its knees overnight unable to pay for it. The president, governors and mayors scrambled, edicts were issued, and our cities turned into ghost towns. In dread, we waited for the predictions to manifest, the ICUs to be overwhelmed, sick people left to die. American industry rushed to mass produce ventilators and masks, while the Army constructed temporary hospitals. Glued to our TVs, we watched, but thank God the apocalyptic forecasts never came true. It is now the end of April, the predicted peak has come and gone, and we did indeed, as a nation, as a people, flatten the curve.
New York, ground zero, never ran out of ventilators, nor did anyplace else. In March, Governor Cuomo predicted they would need 40,000, or patients would be allowed to die. It didn’t happen, and by April 15 they were being shipped to other states. Temporary hospitals were dismantled, and hospital ships sent home with few patients treated. Tragically, over 50,000 Americans have died from this highly contagious monster, but nothing like the predictions. The models were wrong. Originally, the predicted mortality rate was over three percent, but general antibody testing (e.g. Stanford and USC) is showing the disease far more widespread than previously thought, and far less lethal than feared. We took drastic action, and much of the world did, too, but not all. Sweden urged voluntary social distancing, but kept their society running; gyms, cafes, and businesses stayed open, while the elderly self-quarantined. Their infection rate is on par with hard quarantine countries, and they are reaching “herd immunity.”
America scrambled, some say panicked, but that is behind us. We had good reason to be afraid, but the fact is that we took a roaring economy and threw it into a huge recession, if not depression, overnight. Twenty-six million Americans have lost their jobs in six weeks—unprecedented. Billions of hard-earned retirement accounts evaporated. CEO John Tyson stated today that our food supply is breaking, as plants are shuttering and farmers are destroying millions of livestock. Ironically, hospitals are laying off staff, as even heart attack and stroke victims are afraid to go to the hospital. Calls to suicide hotlines are spiking; no work, bills accumulating, businesses folding, no social interaction, what do we expect? We are a country of dreamers and doers, and very social. This pandemic lockdown could globally push half a billion people into poverty, the first time global poverty has increased in 30 years. Poverty brings its own despair, hunger and death from other diseases.
We’ve been here before; in 1957, 70,000 Americans died of the Asian Flu Pandemic, and 675,000 Americans died of the Spanish Flu in 1918. Today that would translate into over two million of us. Now we are better educated, with much better medical care. COVID-19 is more lethal than standard influenza, but much, much less so than SARS or the Avian flu. The lockdown was never about stopping COVID-19—that’s impossible—it was about slowing it so we wouldn’t overwhelm our medical infrastructure. America, you did it, you’ve won that fight, and it is time for round two. We are all germaphobes now, and smarter about distances in the workplace and restaurants. We need to rebuild our economy, and our way of life, with the same resolve we fought to save lives. Life is, after all, for living.