COVID-19: Will Political And Economic Interests Trump Health Concerns In The U.S.?

In a March 25 blog post, I touched on the Trump administration’s desire to restart the American economy by Easter. Fortunately, that idea was eventually shelved after intervention by public health officials who warned that loosening restrictions prematurely would cause the COVID-19 case count and fatalities to spiral out of control.

For now, that remains official government policy. But the idea of restarting the U.S. economy in the midst of the pandemic, as former Fox News “journalist” Bill O’Reilly might say, still has “legs”. Okay, that’s not exactly true. What O’Reilly actually did say on Sean Hannity’s radio show in arguing that the economy should be restarted is that many people who were dying were “on their last legs anyway.”

While definitely on the crude end of the spectrum, O’Reilly is far from the only Republican politician/supporter who has championed the idea of getting the economy up and running again. Desperate to repair damage being done to his re-election bid in November as criticism over his administration’s “handling” of the pandemic grows, Trump continues to tout the idea of re-opening the economy as soon as possible.

As of today at noon CST, U.S. COVID-19 totals stood at 521, 714 infections and 20,064 dead. As had been forecast, the virus has spread beyond initial hotspots in New York and New Jersey. Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Florida all have case counts above (or approaching) 20,000, and Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Connecticut and Washington have all exceeded 10,000.

While researchers around the world are working to find out more about the virus and possible treatments, a lot of questions remain unanswered. To begin with, the fatality count hasn’t been limited to those who fall into the traditional vulnerable category for the flu (primarily the elderly, and people with serious preexisting health conditions). People in the prime of their life, including healthcare workers, have died from the virus too.

As well, even for people in good health, the virus can still pack a wallop. And if people do require intensive medical intervention to help recover, they can suffer aftereffects such as lung damage which can compromise their future health.

Current scientific models suggest, too, that while the virus may subside as summer approaches, there may be a second outbreak this fall. That was the case with the 1918 flu pandemic, where an initial spring outbreak was followed by an even more deadly second wave in the fall.

That’s not to say that countries that are currently battling the pandemic shouldn’t be strategizing about how restrictions on social and economic activity might be lifted. Guidance in that regard can probably be gained by watching countries in Asia, where the pandemic is further along. But any decisions that do get made shouldn’t put partisan political and powerful economic interests ahead of the average citizen — even if they are on their last legs.