April 16, 2020: Yesterday, at the request of one of my regular readers, (and I don’t have enough to ignore the wishes of even one) I will stop posting the daily statistics of the Covid-19 carnage in our country and the rest of the world. For those interested, these numbers are readily available.
There was an illuminating article in today’s Wall Street Journal regarding the competing dynamic between the epidemiologists modeling the likely trajectory of this disease and the economists trying to predict what our current social distancing policies are likely to do to our economy. It appears, based on this article’s assertion, that the number being put on a human life in the current calculus is $10 million dollars. Previously, when health systems were assessing the value of a human life saved in making decisions about screening for specific diseases, such as doing colonoscopies to help prevent colon cancer mortality, the number was $50,000. The reality is that regardless of what number is chosen to value a human life, the decision is more an economic and political decision, rather than a moral one.
Without debating the best ways the Federal Government can support businesses and individuals during this pandemic, there is a limit as to how much and for how long this support can continue. Unless we want to be in the position Greece found itself a few years ago, money borrowed is eventually money that has to be repaid. We have already indentured ourselves and our children, and soon, our grandchildren. As it is, many of the smaller companies who are closing their doors will not be coming back, and the jobs they offered will be gone for a long time, if not forever. People have to have food on their tables, roofs over their heads, and clothing for their children.
What have our current social distancing policies accomplished? We have definitely slowed the spread of the virus and flattened the curve. We have allowed our medical facilities to catch up to demand, so we don’t have to make horrible decisions about rationing the use of respirators. What we have not done to date is find a cure or effective treatment of the disease. The hope is that we will have a vaccine available in 1 ½ years. It’s good to remember that this is a hope, as we still haven’t found a vaccine for other viral illnesses such as HIV or Hepatitis C, despite extensive research. Even when the vaccine becomes available, it will take a while to inoculate a sufficiently high number of the population (usually around 60-70%) to achieve herd immunity (the amount needed to keep the virus infecting new people.) The pressure to go back to work and reopen businesses will continue to mount daily. Our current best hope is to do this in a slow and rational manner, ramping up testing for the antibody to see who is immune protected and can safely return to their jobs, and restructuring work flow in those jobs to allow maximum protection possible for the workers. At the same time, extensive testing, contact tracing, and isolation will need to continue. Failing this, we will have a massive resurgence of the disease, with even more catastrophic numbers.
We are all in this together. We all need to look out for one another. We desperately need unified leadership to accomplish these goals. Let us hope for the best.