The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Exit Strategy

This morning, a new narrative began to surface: In hushed tones of concern, the trained hamsters in the media—you know, the same crew that has worked tirelessly to spike fear, uncertainty and doubt among politicians and the public at large—have suddenly noticed that the government's stay-at-home policies have resulted in millions upon millions of unemployed workers. Images of tearful mothers who can't pay the rent, and concerned fathers who won't have grocery money have already begun to emerge.

The media's trained hamsters would argue, of course, that the growing shutdown of the American economy is a consequence of recommendations of medical experts (based by and large on worst case scenarios) and that the economic wreckage that will result is necessary to "save lives." They present the choices as binary—either shut down the economy OR encourage the spread of COVID-19 with consequent deaths among a small segment of the population who have contributing health conditions. The choices are NOT binary.

The same media who this morning lamented the collateral damage generated by stay-at-home policies has worked very hard to disregard information that indicates that the original projections by their chosen experts were less than accurate or useful and that early models and have been woefully incorrect. None of that says that the COVID-19 virus isn't serious or that some of the measures recommended are wholly appropriate, but it's instructive to note how the catastrophic narrative trumps all else.

The problem with all of this is that there is no easy exit strategy from it. Now that the economy is essentially shut down, what are the criteria we'll use to restart it? What politician will be the first to say it's okay to risk COVID-19 infection and go back to work? Do we wait until cases of COVIS-19 go to near zero? That could take many months. Do we wait until testing is available and conducted for every citizen in the USA? That's both impractical and enormously time consuming. Do we wait for a vaccine? That's at least nine months out.

And what if some brave politician says none of that is acceptable, and argues that we've got to do what we should have done from the start—protect the vulnerable, encourage broad based health measures, isolate hot zones, but encourage the majority of workers outside of hot zones to return to the workplace, if not their normal lives. Maybe every worker wears a mask and gloves, stays six feet apart, and gets a temperature check at the start of each day, but they go to work.

And what politician will risk the media storm that will result as the trained hamsters scurry to find a few anecdotal deaths that occur after the stay-at-home orders are lifted? How many opposition politicians will be tempted to accuse the brave of having "blood on their hands."?

And so we sit paralyzed by "an abundance of caution." No politician will make the first move. The medical experts they have chosen always think worst case. The media always catastrophizes. The administration's political opponents are already suggesting yet another witch hunt to pin the blame on Trump. I suspect that his advisors are loath to give the Democrats ammunition by "disregarding the advice" of the medical experts (note: NOT all experts, just the ones in the spotlight).

How do we stop the economic wreckage, and when do we stop it? At the moment, an exit strategy is a long, long way off.


The editors of the Washington Examiner echo the sentiments expressed in my post writing:
It is true that a lockdown-based strategy is not sustainable for the country over the long haul. The nation’s leaders must lay the groundwork now for a gradual return to American life once the worst of the crisis is over. Such a strategy will likely involve more widespread wearing of masks and a better system for testing people, isolating those infected, and then notifying all of their contacts. Hopefully, at some point soon, there will be a medical breakthrough that could at least treat COVID-19, even if a vaccine is unlikely to be available before the second half of 2021.

But right now, cases are still rapidly increasing, and public health officials have not yet developed the tools needed to mitigate the spread of the virus outside of the current aggressive measures. Under the circumstances, it was prudent for President Trump to extend the current guidance on social distancing through April.

Critics of the current mitigation strategy have made some fair points. One of the most compelling is that any calculation about the possible negative effects of easing up on restrictions needs to be counterbalanced against the societal risks associated with a prolonged shutdown that devastates businesses, makes it impossible for millions to earn a living, and causes social isolation.
That's a real debate that is worth having. Too bad the trained hamsters in the media won't even allow opposing "expert" voices to be heard.