“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.” So President Donald Trump said. Over a month ago, President Trump openly declared his willingness to sacrifice his people’s lives for his beloved economy. President Trump’s attitude toward the COVID-19 crisis is tainted by a tunneled vision of revitalizing the economy that he has often prided himself with. Unfortunately, he does not stand alone in his view. As governors begin to reopen their states, there has been a widespread shift in focus from one of public health to that of rebuilding the economy. This focus must be diverted back to maintaining public health precautions, especially as cases begin to peak again. Although the American economy has sustained a harsh blow due to COVID-19 and cries for aid, maintaining public health measures and saving lives is a far more urgent and consequential matter. Not only do doctors, experts, and statistics point toward the priorities of sustaining public health, but relaxing recommended health precautions bears too great a threat to people’s lives.
A Conflicted Country Gripped with Indecision
The economy suffers, and people suffer. Many Americans are divided over whether to stay safe by remaining at home or to reenter the streets to rebuild the economy. The economy has indeed suffered unfathomable losses. Over 42 million people have filed for unemployment as of June 9, 2020, and that number has continued to increase ever since. Furthermore, the economic crisis was declared a recession by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Despite these brutal losses, a more urgent matter is the fact that millions of American people have suffered directly from the coronavirus. With over 2 million confirmed cases and more than a hundred thousand deaths in the United States, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc over the lives of so many Americans. Safety guidelines issued by medical experts, such as social distancing and wearing masks, effectively slowed the spread of the virus. Americans are faced with the decision either to return to the streets and revamp the economy or to stay at home and reduce the risk of infection. Many are choosing the former. This widespread decision to reopen has had predictable consequences with a strong resurgence of infection in June.
Health over Economy
The health and safety of the American people demand far more attention than the wounded economy. Doctors and medical experts across the country have passionately urged for the deliberate consideration of the risks associated with reopening the economy. All Americans ought to listen to these doctors and experts who are professionally trained to manage this type of situation. These are the people that save countless lives, yet people choose to ignore them in a situation that poses a threat to millions of people. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that if people prioritize economic interests over public health measures, “there is a real risk that [they] will trigger an outbreak that [they] may not be able to control.
As the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in June has demonstrated, the urgency to reopen the economy has caused an unwanted reappearance of new cases. As a result of these new cases, the economy fell once again. For instance, on June 24, 2020, Dow fell about 600 points based on fear of COVID-19’s predictable renewal. The rush to open the economy backfired. If people continue attempting to revitalize the economy, the economy will eventually plunge as a result of the new cases directly caused by the rushed reopening. Dr. Fauci pronounced clear forewarnings, stating that a hurried reopening would “set [people] back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.” Economic recovery should be put into focus only after the risk of the pandemic is sufficiently minimized. Otherwise, the economy will continue to suffer, and people’s lives will still be put in danger. The way to protect people’s lives and prevent the risk of another economic downfall is to prioritize public health measures. Many are impatient to revitalize the wounded economy, but the first step to doing so is to follow public health guidelines.
Proven Benefits of Social Distancing
If social distancing guidelines and lockdowns had not been installed, hundreds of thousands of more people would be dead. Social distancing has been proven to work effectively by researchers. A model constructed by epidemiologists revealed that if stay-at-home orders had been instituted only one week prior, 36,000 fewer people would have died. If the country had locked down two weeks prior, 83% of the nation’s deaths could have been prevented. Such statistics show the underestimated importance of social distancing. Lockdowns are being released prematurely, and states will likely remain open throughout the summer. If a single week of released lockdowns can cause so many deaths as shown by the model, an entire array of weeks in reopened states will produce an even greater aggregation of deaths. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasted, as of June 24, 2020, a total of 179,000 American deaths by October 1. However, if lockdowns ease, 180,000 Americans will die with the possibility of rising to almost 230,000. Thousands more will die as a result of relaxed social distancing guidelines. The fact that thousands of deaths are the costs associated with reopening illustrates that reopening is not worth it. Using human lives as sacrifices to revive the economy is immoral and shameful.
President Trump and Vice President Pence have downplayed the severity of the pandemic. From the very beginning of statewide lockdowns, their focus has always been on reopening the country and recovering the precious American economy. Constantly dismissing the virus, President Trump has recommenced his election campaign, risking thousands of lives, without regard to experts’ warnings. Vice President Pence wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal claiming that there is no second wave of the virus and that the media is causing excess panic. They rightfully believe that the economy needs to recover. However, the issue is that they are putting economic interests before public health interests. Even though the economy is badly damaged, the country’s leadership and their supporters must realize that public health should be a priority before the economy.
A predominant concern among the opposition is that unemployment will continue to achieve record highs. Millions are unemployed, and this number continues to rise. Despite the daunting nature of these unemployment numbers, much of unemployment is temporary. Once the pandemic is over, a majority of jobs will return. In addition, Congress has released trillions of dollars in relief to protect businesses and individuals. Currently, the future of the economy and employment seem bleak, but many of these jobs can be recovered. However, lives cannot be recovered. Prioritizing public health over the economy continues to stand as a better choice since people’s lives and health are inarguably more valuable than money and jobs.
Weighing the Risks
There are two options to consider. (1) We will risk economic fallout by following the safety guidelines of social distancing and wearing masks. The economy will falter, and millions will remain unemployed. However, many will recover their jobs after the pandemic is over. (2) We risk millions of people’s lives by reopening. Countless people will be hospitalized, and many will die. We could more readily lose family members, friends, and our own lives as we are constantly exposed to the virus. As cases inevitably increase, the economy will once again drop as more people enter the streets, rendering the reopening counterproductive. In addition, if cases once again rise to an uncontrollable extent, states may be forced to shut down, and the cycle will continue.
We must weigh the risks of both options. Option 2 entails broader catastrophic consequences than those of the first. When we prioritize public health over the economy, we do succumb to losses regarding employment and money. However, these losses are minor compared to the losses that will transpire if all states reopen too soon and remain reopened. In addition, there are ways to individually compensate for these monetary deficits. Being aware and careful about how personal money is being spent is a simple solution. Also, taking advantage of any way to make money, such as starting an online business or occupying remote jobs, is beneficial for getting through job losses. Conversely, if the country fully reopens again, we can still individually stay safe by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
It is of utmost importance for all of us to understand that choosing option 1 is a more rational decision. Option 1 entails a more wounded economy, whereas option 2 entails more dead people.