Sunday, November 29, 2020

COVID-19 is the Common Enemy

Defeat the virus now, argue with each other later 

Let’s start off by seeing if we can agree that responding to COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the coronavirus, really shouldn’t be anything we argue about, and it certainly shouldn’t be a political issue. Everyone I know, of every political persuasion, believes that the death of innocent people is a tragedy. Everyone wants people to stay healthy. Everyone I know also wants the economy to do well for ourselves and our friends and family. Nobody wants pandemic death to devastate families, and nobody wants the pandemic to crush the economy and the livelihood of hard-working people. We all want to be back to (something close to) normal as soon as we can, able to gather together, able to go to a restaurant, a concert, a school. Can we agree that those are fair statements? 


The fight is against the coronavirus, not against each other. We’re still in the middle of this fight, and we still need to cooperate and to fight together against the virus rather than against each other.


There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that thanks to the amazing work of the scientific community, multiple highly effective vaccines are on their way. It has been inspiring to see how multiple teams worked incredibly fast in the interests of public health. Help is on the way. 


The bad news is that the coronavirus continues to spread very quickly right now, and that new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rapidly rise. With more holiday season gatherings taking place in indoor settings, there is a serious risk that the massive spike continues through December and January. The death toll is already well more than a quarter million American lives, rivaling the death toll of our most devastating wars and we are far from done. More Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. Within a few weeks, the death toll of COVID-19 will surpass the death toll of World War II.


Now let’s get back to the part where we come together and fight effectively against the virus. If we can show some discipline now and for a few more months, we can limit the impacts.


With a good vaccine distribution plan and broad acceptance and willingness to be vaccinated, we can probably be in a much better place by mid 2021. We have to be realistic about the timeline, of course. It will probably take 5 or 6 months to get from where we are now to the point where we have achieved herd immunity through vaccines and natural immunity from those who have been infected and have recovered. So what do we do now?


I’m not suggesting shutdowns and giving up on the economy as part of fighting the coronavirus. We need a healthy economy, and the best thing for the economy is public confidence. People are showing that they are unlikely to spend and to hire in the middle of so much uncertainty. There’s a good case to be made that the best thing for public confidence is managing the impacts of the coronavirus now and defeating it in 2021 when the vaccines are broadly available.


I’m certainly not a public health expert, but I try to take the advice of those who are. There are plenty of well-credentialed researchers and public servants who have been studying viruses and advising governments on public health for decades, and they are broadly in agreement. Among the most visible of these are Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and Dr. Robert Redfield. They have been studying the spread and their advice is evolving as we learn.


Over these last 9 months, the experts have learned a lot. We understand the spread better now, and what measures help. Given the state of things today, we probably don’t have to “shut down everything” but instead we can be more surgical by restricting certain activities and certain business types and we can do it in the regions that we can see are most at risk by watching the trends in positive tests and hospitalizations. We can continue to look closely at effective practices, and yes, temporary restrictions if need be, for bars and restaurants while we try hard to keep schools open.


What we hear from the public health experts is that there are some straightforward approaches to limiting spread. Let’s all wear masks when outside our homes, practice social distancing, avoid crowds and family gatherings. When we have to be together, outdoors is better than indoors. When we have to be indoors, opening windows and improving ventilation can help. 


Again, everyone I know wants people to be healthy and wants the economy to do well, and nobody wants pandemic death to devastate families and crush the economy. The American people have always stepped up when times were tough. Let’s do it again. Let’s be strong and do the things within our power to get us through. The coronavirus is the enemy. All of us are on the same team and it is within our power to keep each other safe and to get through this together.


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