*Comments in hindsight: While I still agree with what I have written, a new perspective I am considering is "We don't trade lives, captain". While deciding both ways against the virus is, to a certain extent, playing God. Not giving up on any individual no matter the cost is a commendable action, not that I have any credibility. (just sharing my thoughts)
"Better to be safe than sorry", I think this mindset sums up a lot about the forefront of our society. Through our experience with disasters and genocides, we have developed caution and counter-measures to deal with potential accidents. These measures that aim to prevent recurrences include airport security, buildings' resistance to natural disasters, and lately, the topic of this post, quarantine. The former two listed are done to prevent the 1% or even 0.1%, and we strive to use them to provide people as much safety as we possibly can. And while saving any human life is worth a million, practicalists such as Elon Musk are less concerned about that 1%, and instead are more interested in multiplying the current state by 2 or 3 times. Elon Musk had famously addressed the artificially boosted fatality of the Coronavirus, and while he still thinks social distancing is essential in lowering the risks, he believes that it should not come at the cost of disrupting the economy.
The Dorment ProblemWe all understand the danger of a virus experiencing exponential growth, but there might be more demanding issues that we may have overlooked. Our society, and specifically the US, have built a store of surplus through the years, and without dealing with the specifics, have been relying upon it lately. The situation of the Coronavirus only exacerbated our1 reliance upon surpluses as governments hand out checks to keep the cycle of the economy afloat. While society and the economy seem to keep on running, throwing money at the problem is only a temporary solution. Problems of manufacturing cannot be solved by legislating the movement of money, and there needs to be practical work for a meaningful output. Our industry as a whole is not yet totally replaced by robots, and labor is still being used. The food that we have access to are all processed at different levels, and as long as there were people needed for the processing before, someone has to do that processing now. The need for labor cannot be solved through the dollar, and work cannot be replaced by money alone. The effects of the lockdown, although are already showing, are still not in full effect. Normally, there are delays between the situation and its observable outcome. But even so, the price of food had already shown its initial blow: “The index price of fresh vegetables is now predicted to increase between 2.0 and 3.0 percent in 2020… Meat is now predicted to increase in price between 7.0 and 8.0 percent in 2020” (USDA). The lack of labor for processing food is imminent, and continued quarantine at the same degree could be seen as detrimental. As modern societies, we have our own stock of surplus as said before, but surpluses are finite and could be used up. If no adequate actions are taken, the situation now is heading toward a food shortage. TODAY). Instead of bulk selling food to restaurants with little packaging, the small portions that are needed to be separated into for individual consumers takes labor, and people are needed to chop up the meat into packets. Lockdown and too severe levels of quarantine are detrimental and unsustainable. We shouldn’t need to do an experiment in which we know the outcome. And if the increasing food prices is not a good enough indication, logic should convince: someone has to be doing the labor that we had relied on previously.
The DilemmaThis all is the dilemma of saving every person we possibly can from the virus or sustaining our economy. While the answer to the problem seems straightforward: save the human lives that are each so precious, we cannot overlook the effects of not tending our economy. Economic depression has the potential to leave mass amounts of people with empty stomachs and be evicted from their homes. To make matters worse, these effects have already been showing in our society currently, and people are seriously suffering from unemployment (low living standards, being evicted). As we are keeping the number of corona infections low, we are putting others in suffering. While we are saving lives relating to covid, we are putting 11M people4 out of jobs. And if we do not reopen the economy, the effects will only worsen. 2, there is the reality of the shrink in the supply of goods. And as supply shrinks, the price would go up despite not having inflation, it is basic economics: rare things cost more. Goods don't exist without people making them, and not reasserting the labor force is, I cannot stress enough, extremely detrimental. If we could accept that the economy has to restart at one point, then we should evaluate what effects it would bring if we do reopen.
Re-evaluating the Mortality rate of COVID-19Yes, 240,000 deaths3 is unfathomable, and no words can communicate the degree of spite for deaths at this magnitude. But we have to understand the number being presented, we cannot be swayed by numbers alone. There were 2,839,205 deaths in 2018, and while that number is soul-crushing, it does not mean much when out of context. As hard as it is, we have to look at the reported numbers in context.
The first context we have to count in is what COVID deaths are tied with other causes. We have to consider whether the people already affected are representative of the current population. Out of the 240,000 deaths, 109,000 are also caused by Pneumonia which can be life-threatening on its own. The Coronavirus is a catalyst to those deaths and has its own effect, but the difficult question to ask is whether the mass population of the US is with Pneumonia. After that, the subsequent question would be how about the other 131,000 COVID deaths. And because of the inaccuracy of data, numbers for COVID deaths with COVID as not the underlying cause ranges from 7.8% to 28.8% (CEBM), meaning these lives are likely to pass away with or without COVID. There are limits in data, but the limited conclusion is that in the condition of partial lockdown, COVID had been a catalyst in destroying health for 240,000 people, and that is out of 13M that got COVID. And that 13M is out of a population of 331M. This uncertainty in numbers is added upon the faulty recording of data. According to the CDC, COVID deaths contributing to the numbers are determined “with or without laboratory confirmation”. Putting into context, it is uncertain that COVID deaths do have COVID. Part of the number of COVID deaths can be counted just because someone has symptoms of COVID, which are fever, cough, fatigue, etc. These are common symptoms across most sicknesses, and counting COVID deaths because of symptoms that might originate from non-COVID only adds to the uncertainty in the data. Given the numbers, one of the last questions is what is the bottom line. The controversial statement is that COVID will become something similar to cancer, but only contagious. To throw numbers like a heartless animal again, there are 609,640 cancer deaths in 2018 (cancer.org). Death is part of life, and while we do our best to avoid it, it is undeniably eventually unavoidable. The level of lethality of COVID-19 is uncertain, and the data is in all sorts of ways influenced by a lot of factors that make it applicable or non-applicable to the mass population. And while there is uncertainty in the fatality of COVID-19, there is a concrete and imminent problem in the economy. The 240,000 deaths with some level of uncertainty are put against the 11M who have lost jobs and partially have faced eviction. I think the numbers at least ask for a reconsideration for some degree of reopening the economy.
Our Supposed ActionWhat we should do is what everyone is arguing about, but let's lay down the undisputable, and state-wide testing is not one of the musts. Our first course of action should be getting more reliable data, and classifying COVID death without laboratory equipment cannot be tolerated. As we are racing for a vaccine, we do not even know about the full nature of the virus itself. And testing although is desirable to be rapid, cannot generate both false-positive and false-negative results. You are not supposed to be able to answer a yes-no question both wrongly positive and wrongly negative, that is like saying “it could be yes, but it also could be no”. No matter how rapid the test is, it is useless if it is in no degree certain. You can have one or the other: false-positive or false-negative, and counter-measures can be taken, but not both at the same time.
And whether to reopen the economy should not be ruled out of the window. Without reopening the economy, food prices will only get higher and higher, and rent will only be continued being pushed off. There should at least be a serious consideration to reopening the economy. And of course, with more reliable data for COVID-19, we would be able to decide with much more certainty. Although the numbers are all skewed and misrepresented, for now, we are suppressing a questionable 240,000 deaths for 11M unemployed. And if this post hasn't convinced you of the idea of reopening the economy more, at least I have made you reconsider it. While the exponential growth of the virus is bad, the ever-increasing food prices and unpaid rent might be equally deadly. If we act too late, we might suffer the consequences of both.
1: I’m not American, but for the sake of fluency, I will use “our”
2: If there’s inflation, I would be positive that it isn’t because of the printing of money by the US
3: This number is in the US alone, at the time of writing, which is 11/27. The “precise” number is 240,213
4: 331,000,000[US population] x (6.9%[oct unemployment] - 3.5%[feb unemployment]) = 11,254,000 (statista.com)