Call it panic, or prudent caution; to combat the coronavirus we’ve distanced ourselves and succeeded in shutting much of the world down.
Precautions such as travel bans, personal hygiene, closures and social distancing are designed to “flatten” the virus growth curve and allow the healthcare system to cope.
What is the plan to return to normal? What does success look like?
Every dollar you spend, no matter how trivial, has an economic multiplier effect. In a free market economy that power is tremendous. When we withdraw from the marketplace, a reverse multiplier takes hold with a strangling grip.
Our economy can’t survive on minimal activity forever. Entire industries will buckle. There will be bankruptcies and job loss.
As it has in other countries, no doubt the virus news will get worse before it gets better. Could be much worse. We don’t have to guess, we’ll follow the precautions and watch the numbers.
Whatever the course of the virus, the experts who told us to close human gathering places, have said nothing about plans to open them back up.
Questions for policymakers:
- What milestones in the virus data will tell us to alter our stance?
- When does social distancing become ineffective?
- What precautions can be taken to safely resume some activities before the overall threat has abated?
- Which activities can resume first?
- Can we be more precise than one-size-fits-all closures?
- Is there a hierarchy of activities based on their risk and necessity?
- Which human gatherings are more essential than others?
- Which human gatherings entail lower risk of transmitting the virus than others?
- If the virus numbers go down over the summer, what will be the risk when the weather turns cold again?
- Can we return to normal in stages?
- When can children return to school?
- When can restaurants reopen?
- When can stadiums and theme parks reopen?
- When does the economic harm exceed the harm from the virus?
- How do we know we’ve won?
It will likely be a long time until the risk from the coronavirus approaches zero.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that influenza resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually since 2010. During that entire time we enjoyed an economic expansion. Life went on.