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To Fix The Economy We Must Beat The Virus

The economy is not going to return to normal until the pandemic is stopped.

In the past few days, a movement has emerged to end the shutdown and get America back to work. These people argue that the lockdown was a mistake and that, as the president has said, “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) became the face of the movement when he told Tucker Carlson, “My message is that let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”

From Trump and Patrick, others took up the message. Conservative radio talk show host Jesse Kelly tweeted that he would “happily die” if he had a “choice between dying and plunging the country I love into a Great Depression.” Another Trump supporter told me on social media, “Shutting down an entire economy costs trillions of dollars per quarter. That exceeds the statistical value of life from those who will die from the virus.”

I can think of many words to describe the prospect of disregarding the advice of medical experts and leaving hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans to die. Neither of those words is “pro-life” or “conservative.”

The whole movement is reminiscent of the scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail in which a Medieval peasant tries to bring out a corpse for pickup and disposal. “I’m not dead yet,” the old man exclaims.

The hundreds of thousands of Americans that some are willing to write off aren’t dead yet either.

Erick Erickson calculated that a conservative estimate of the death toll would be about 900,000 people. To put that into perspective, that low-end estimate is slightly more than the annual number of abortions in the US.

But wait, there’s more. The Coronavirus doesn’t just kill. Anywhere from about 20 to 30 percent of cases are severe enough to require hospitalization. While the disease mostly kills senior citizens like Dan Patrick, a large share of cases serious enough to require treatment are middle-aged or younger. In one CDC study reported by Fox News, about 20 percent of patients, including in the ICU, were between 20 and 44 years-old.

Diedre Wilkes, a 42-year-old mammogram technician from Coweta County, Georgia, was one of the younger victims of Coronavirus. Wilkes, who had no known underlying health conditions, was found dead in her home last week. NBC News reported that Wilkes posthumously tested positive for COVID-19.

Statistically, the workforce is primarily composed of people who, like Diedre Wilkes, are vulnerable to the virus. While the 20-60 age group is not the most at-risk group for death from COVID-19, these people are at risk for serious complications that may require hospitalization.

The increased need for hospitalization is a major problem of the pandemic. Hospitals in New York City, which has been especially hard hit, are reaching maximum capacity. ICUs and morgues are full, reported the New York Times, and shortages of protective gear are hampering treatment and causing increased risks to health workers. When hospitals become overwhelmed, the death rate will go up not only for Coronavirus patients but for other health conditions as well.

Thinking logically, even if President Trump, backed by his medical advisors, reopened the economy and rescinded the stay-at-home advisories, the economy would not rebound. With the virus still spreading unchecked, many state and local governments would keep their own advisories and orders in place. Businesses might choose not to reopen or return to normal because they could see the threat to their employees and customers. Businesses that did return to normal might find that that employee sick calls increase sharply within the next few weeks.

Consumers may not be ready to return to normal either. A large share of the population would not immediately return to local restaurants and bars knowing that infected people could be sitting next to them. Few would choose to take an airline trip or a cruise and be in close proximity to a large number of strangers. No one is going to want to take a summer vacation to Disney or Las Vegas or New York as things currently stand.

The reason is that Americans aren’t stupid and most of us have pretty decent BS detectors. In a media-driven society where we are bombarded with crises du jour from both sides, we have to. If we don’t panic over alarmism about non-crises such as climate change or illegal immigrant crime waves then most of us probably have the wherewithal to determine that we should at least be cautious about a deadly infectious disease with no vaccine or treatment despite what the government says.

This will be doubly true as more Americans see people that they know falling ill to COVID-19. As the old saying goes, who should we believe, the government or our lying eyes?

About a week ago, a friend from a previous move was asking on Facebook if anyone knew anybody who had Coronavirus. Since then that rural county has reported two confirmed cases. The friend hasn’t posted much lately.

The bottom line is that the economy is not going to return to normal until the pandemic is stopped. After a few weeks, almost certainly not an entire quarter, things will start to get back to normal. Businesses and schools will start to reopen when the number of cases recedes, but there will be local outbreaks and quarantines until we develop a proven treatment and a vaccine. That could be more than a year away. Until then, we are likely to see a slower economy and higher unemployment.

Even if the economy could be restarted at the president’s whim, the country is more than the economy alone. The idea that Americans could or should write off what might be as much as one percent of our total population is reprehensible. It is no more moral for Jerry Falwell, Jr., who refused to close Liberty University, and others to advocate sacrificing legions of their countrymen for the economy than it is for Millennials to refer to the virus as a “Boomer Remover” and party as normal on Spring Break before returning to infect their parents and grandparents. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Sacrificing your fellow Americans for the economy is morally on the same level as abortion for convenience. It is little different from euthanasia or assisted suicide except for the fact that the people who will die have no say in the matter.

Being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion. Life does not end at conception. It does not end when you leave the workforce or when you enter a nursing home or are put on a ventilator.

People who are truly pro-life will be reaching out to help their neighbors during this crisis. They will accept some discomfort and inconvenience as they practice social-distancing and near-compulsive handwashing. They will even accept some financial hardships to help save lives.

What they won’t do is prematurely return to business as usual and endanger millions of their friends and neighbors.

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