In my last post on this subject, CORONAVIRUS: THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM IS GUESSWORK, I advocated taking the problem seriously. Since then we have started forcing businesses to close. There is an obvious problem with that. We work to pay the bills for food, clothing, and shelter. Stop working and pretty soon we don’t have any food, clothing, and shelter. If nothing else, forcing people to isolate themselves at home will lead to mental health problems. When people cannot work and interact with others, many become depressed, and some become suicidal. Therefore, cannot beat the coronavirus by shutting everything down.
What businesses are shutting down? That depends on the state but here are some examples.
- America Closed: Thousands Of Stores, Resorts, Theaters Shut Down (npr.org) points to the shutdown of resorts, restaurants, bars, cinemas, cruiselines, gyms, waterparks, retail outlets, hairdressers and so forth around the country.
- More than 30 major US retailers are temporarily closing stores in an unprecedented move to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (businessinsider.com) and Nike, Urban Outfitters and other retailers shuttering stores temporarily because of coronavirus (cnn.com) provide lists based upon company announcements.
- Pa. state shutdown: What’s staying open, what’s closing in coronavirus fight | What is a nonessential business? (lehighvalleylive.com) focuses on what the government of a particular state has directed to shutdown.
- Emergency Event Information (emergency.pwcgov.org) describes what Prince William County (where I live) has closed for the occasion. Closings include libraries, Adult Day Healthcare programs, senior centers, parks facilities, and meetings including the Board of County Supervisors.
We can accurately describe business shutdowns as draconian measures. Are the business shutdowns necessary? Given the object is to stop the spread of the virus, not to stop people from working, we need to consider that question. Have we considered the trade offs? Have we looked at appropriate alternatives?
Consider this excerpt from Exaggerating coronavirus doomsday scenario ignores other tragedies: Let’s stop the hysteria (washingtontimes.com) by Everett Piper.
Matt Smethurst of the Gospel Coalition recently challenged his readers to consider the words of C.S. Lewis’ essay titled “On Living in an Atomic Age” that was written some 72 years ago at the end of World War II. In referring to the following excerpt from Lewis, Mr. Smethurst takes the liberty of replacing “coronavirus” where Lewis instead referenced the “atomic bomb” throughout the quote:
“In one way, we think a great deal too much of the coronavirus. ‘How are we to live in a coronavirus age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the coronavirus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways … It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. (from here (washingtontimes.com))
Instead of forcing people who would otherwise being doing useful work to close their businesses, we need to encourage people to modify the way they interact with customers so that their businesses are not involved in the spread of disease. That is, we need to work out sanitation measures that make it safe for businesses to stay open and people to earn their livelihood. Will that be easy? No, but shutting down so many businesses for a couple of months will be far more difficult.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) poses a serious problem, but we don’t want a cure that is worse than the disease. So, we cannot ignore the consequences of our actions. We don’t want to do more harm than good. Is not the following the first rule in health care?
First, do no harm.
(from here (en.wikipedia.org))