Let less people die to get the shutdowns over faster?

By Stephen, 15 April, 2020

People are saying it's life vs the economy. That we should let coronavirus keep spreading and sacrifice some our grandparents so that young people can work. Yes. people being unable to work is a disaster in the US. People are living paycheck to paycheck and unlike Europe the government is not coming to the rescue. People are locked up with their abusers. Depression and suicide will increase. Everyone knows, everyone agrees.

But here’s the real question:

Are you willing to let less people die to get the shutdowns over faster?

Italy and Spain have shown us that holding out for freedom as long as possible leads to hospitals collapsing. Then everyone who strutted around begs for a shutdown. And infections rates grow exponentially: wait an extra two weeks and you'll have more than ten times as many cases.

Phrased as above, it sounds like stupid question. But it's also the real question. There is no tradeoff. Let this virus spread and the economy will suffer worse.

How much longer do you have to shut down if your state is stubborn when infection rates rise? Not even Italy or Spain held out this long, but some politicians seem to want to hold out long enough that grocery workers and nurses get so sick that essential services collapse too.

So that’s really the choice: like Italy, Spain or New York, stay open until the hospitals fill up — and then stay shut down a long time to clean up. [So yes, to be clear: the choice is to let less people die and get the economy restarted faster, or let more people die and crash deeper. The second does not sound like a choice anyone should make, but it is a choice that Italy, Spain an Cuomo made, that Fox and many GOP scream we should make, and it a choice ahead of us for many US states.]

Or like California or Washington, shut down earlier and get it done faster. Get rates down quickly and then start testing and case tracking, without grinding health care workers into the ground first, and reopen faster. You can't wish this away: if your country didn't have its act together to test and case track, you are going to shut down.

Take your medicine now and get it over or let more people die so that the shutdown lasts longer and really grinds down the economy. It’s your choice.

My choice to face reality: to start soon enough to keep the shutdown as short as possible, and listen to scientists and not politicians about when it is "possible" to end the shutdown with crashing.

The quote at the top of the page is from Indiana Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, who wants us to end the shutdowns. He's encouraging us to pretend that opening the economy — which would make the US look like Italy, if they didn't shut down, so much much worse than Italy — is making the rounds. It is, to be blunt, a lie or at best a delusion: a country that shuts down their hospitals with a flood of disease will not have a functioning economy. If you care that people don't have jobs, if you don't like the idea of us being dependent on government checks because businesses are closing, then stop listening to politicians and listen to epidemiologists: this could be much much worse, both economically and in terms of lives lost. Hollingsworth has power and listeners, and is encouraging that path.


If you don't like shutdowns, look at Taiwan, an open democracy where scientific expertise and appropriate resources avoided both the deaths and shutdowns the US will face. What can we learn for next time?