Blog | Monday, May 4, 2020

When should we open the economy after coronavirus?


In the weeks ahead, there will be growing tension between forces wanting to open up the economy and those who demand that we hold the line. And no one can tell us now when it will be okay to pull the trigger. It is so much easier to endure a challenge if there is a firm end date to focus on. In this case, not only is there no clear trigger-date, but there will never be agreement on when it will be acceptable to pull back. I'm no expert, but here's a brief list outlining the complexities of this conundrum.
• Public health experts will disagree on the economic relaxation date.
• Corporate leaders will likely favor a sooner and broader opening of the economy.
• Governors will have diverging views from national leaders about what actions their state should take.
• Businesses who are not permitted to open may howl and protest as competitors are given a pass.
• Can schools, for example, be reopened while we are still urged to maintain social distancing?
• Will the nation accept being told that we are opening up the country when in reality only scattered pockets are being permitted a gradual loosening of restrictions?
• What happens when COVID-19 rates rise as the economy is revived? Will we have the tools and the will to do what is necessary?
• As difficult as it has been to shut down the economy, it will be a much harder and longer process to bring it back to life.
• Will we be told, and will we accept, that we will not be able to return to the status quo ante?

The decision of when and how to open the economy will always involve risk. Doctors and medical professionals understand this reality. We may advise a patient that there is a choice of surgery or continued medical treatment, and both options have risks. If we open up the country too soon, we risk a resurgence of the virus and a squandering of what we have accomplished. If we wait too long until the last remnant of the virus has been vanquished, then we may have no economy left to resurrect.

If a house has termites, we can cure the infestation by burning the house to the ground, but would the homeowner celebrate this victory?

We will have to balance serious risks in an evolving situation with endless moving parts with no playbook to refer to and disagreements on how to proceed among experts. Would you like to be making the decision?

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.