As the United States is brought to its knees by the spread of the coronavirus, many questions have gone unanswered. A great deal of stress has accumulated over when society will go back to normal, and it seems that the topic of the coronavirus lurks in the background of every conversation I have: It’s completely unavoidable. There is nothing else to talk about, as COVID-19 has brought the world as we know it to a halt. We must remain in our homes and twiddle our thumbs, hoping for a positive headline on CNN or an inflection in the anchor’s voice that might denote a fleeting sense that hope exists. Businesses fear that they’ll shutter while hospitals are understaffed and underprepared. Students vacate universities, parents stay home from work and people in their 60s and beyond worry for their livelihood. This pandemic has grabbed us by the shirt collar and asked for our lunch money. How will we respond?
Many speculate that the disruption to the economy caused by the disease will induce harsh, depression-level economic conditions regarding job loss and deficit increase. We’re living through an unprecedented era; never has time stood still quite as it does now. The economy and the general livelihood of people is in decline. Gas prices fall as more employers send their workers home with promises of partial payment plans and families putter around their homes stress eating and doing puzzles, waiting for the day when we wake up from the nightmare that we’re living in. Businesses are just as uncertain as citizens as to how long this situation will last, and the stress of it largely lies on the timeline of the disease’s restrictions on society. How long will people be out of work, and how are we going to make it through all of this?
With all of the economic and personal travel restrictions being implemented around the country, life has shut down in America. The question emerging is imperative to answer: What degree of the spreading of the disease should we allow when the livelihood of people and the economy are at stake? The public needs to know more about the disease, that much is certain, but at what point do we reopen the world? If we’re waiting for the total number of new cases to reach zero or for the growth rate to plateau then we could be in for the long haul. This shelter-in-place situation in your home — with seemingly every industry and aspect of your everyday life at the mercy of the coronavirus — can’t go on forever. At some point, the conversation needs to be about what degree of the disease existing can be tolerated so as to not ruin people’s lives and the economic condition of the world.
I am not a pessimist; I don’t believe this to be an apocalypse. I think the world was deeply unready for something of this magnitude. The coronavirus is a test of the world’s ability to react and take proactive measures against a viral outbreak that many countries flunked, as the U.S. and Europe didn’t close their borders soon enough to stop the spread of the disease. I believe that things will return to normal soon, that the disease will plateau and that our lives will resume. These times are unprecedented, so I’m really curious to see what society will look like after this is said and done. Will 100,000 people gather for a football game again without batting an eye? With something as drastic as this, with everyone witnessing the closing of society and experiencing the isolation it has caused, who knows if we will ever get this out of the back of our minds.
Many lessons can be learned from this pandemic. First, a government must take swift and decisive action to protect the health of its citizens. Countries waited too long to ban international travel, and that allowed the disease to spread like wildfire, as travelers brought it back home and exposed it to new areas completely. Second, threats involving the health and livelihood of citizens should always be taken seriously. I fear that arrogance may have compelled the current U.S. administration to underestimate the magnitude or impact of this disease early on. Third, the medical field needs to be able to mobilize faster against an outbreak. Hospitals that are filling up with patients are understaffed and low on equipment, so there needs to be some sort of rapid development in medical infrastructure and production in order to keep up with disease. Such funding could come from a federal relief package. Whether that be converting factories to produce necessary goods and PPE or building new hospitals, these developments ought to be subsidized or otherwise incentivized by the government. The coronavirus will undoubtedly leave its mark on the population but what is important is how we handle the situation. We need to balance people’s livelihoods, the economy and public health in just the right way in order to avoid ruin, and it’s time to start having that conversation.
Shad Jeffrey II can be reached at email@example.com.