Pandemics and Politics

I took a few days off to regroup. It’s all corona all the time anyway, and not much is changing from day-to-day or even week-to-week. I also thought it would be a good idea to do some social distancing from my television news – probably a worse affliction than the Coronavirus.

In my time off, I thought about some things we’ll need to talk about when this is all over. The truth is that in spite of a lot of very smart people working their butts off to get ahead of this pandemic, we don’t really know what’s going on and won't until well after all the numbers are in. We need to give those same brilliant minds a chance to catch their breath and analyze this from every possible angle to understand exactly what has happened.

And, before you go trying to find some kind of political hay to make from all of this, just stop. The truth is that there have been a lot of good Republicans and a lot of good Democrats working very well together to figure things out. Overall, they’ve done a good job in an impossible situation.

Because China has been so dishonest and appears to have fed the virus to the rest of the world intentionally, rather than suffer the economic impact alone, we are still not fully aware of the data it will take to draw good conclusions. We know there are at least three strains of the disease, and we know that the New York variety is worse than the California strain. We know that roughly 80 percent of those infected will display only minor symptoms or none at all. We know that the hardest hit will largely come from a group of senior citizens with underlying health problems, and the older and more unhealthy have the worse chances of survival. We know that African American and Hispanic minorities seem to be hit the hardest. We know that the virus is exponentially more contagious than the common flu, and that a very small percentage of the otherwise young and healthy fall victim and die.

One of the more troubling issues for me is the question of whether or not our social isolation approach to the pandemic will ultimately hurt or help us. This is not a criticism of anyone. In the beginning, we knew the disease was outrageously contagious, and we thought the mortality rate could be equally outrageous. Given what we didn’t know, closing things down seemed the only logical course of action, but what if we end up with a mortality rate comparable or even less than the common flu? Was it worth it then? We took the hottest economy in the world down to Great Depression numbers. We will likely have spent more than our entire annual Federal budget to minimize the impact on our citizens, which will take us dangerously close to a $30 trillion deficit – a bill that will inevitably fall on our children, if it can be paid at all. How do we right that with a death toll that may very well end up under 100,000, when six times that many people die annually from either heart disease or cancer?

And, what about the possibility that we’re only delaying the inevitable. Sweden took the approach in the early going, that they would attempt to manage their way into a herd immunity. Herd immunity is reached when roughly 60 percent of the population is immune to the virus. Their death toll has been high in the early going, but it’s estimated they could reach herd immunity by early this summer. It would largely be over for them, and we would have barely started.

Most of the world played it differently than Sweden. We isolated and developed a very low immunity factor. We’re betting that slowing the spread of the virus will give us time to develop methodologies to protect us. It’s a fair bet, but what if it doesn’t work? We could very well end up in a year or two where Sweden is now, but facing the reality that we destroyed our nation’s future for... nothing.

There’s one last point I just can’t get past. Would our leadership have made the same choices, were we not living in a climate so absorbed with politics? That question has kept me up for the last couple of nights. I hope it keeps you up tonight.


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