Let’s not Swat the Mosquito but get Hit by the Train

The COVID-19 pandemic is a legitimate crisis we should take seriously, but our response to this virus is putting us on course for a far worse disaster.  The instructions from the CDC, the World Health Organization, and all government officials at the federal, state, and local levels are ringing out with one clear message.  We’ve all heard it:  Wash your hands with soap and water, don’t touch your face, and stay home.  Two of these three are sound advice but instructing everyone to stay home instead of going to work is not going to end well if we attempt to do it for more than a few weeks.  Quarantining is a reasonable measure to protect our at-risk populations, but a quarantine will not kill the virus.  All the quarantine is designed to do is slow the spread of the virus to a level where we don’t all get it at once and overwhelm the hospitals. 

The medical challenge is only one factor in this crisis.  We no longer have just a medical crisis.  Our reaction to the virus is causing second and third order effects that are rapidly growing larger than the initial health problem.  The first step in solving a problem is identifying the problem, so we need to start considering all the factors.  If we don’t get off the path we’re on (quarantining everyone), the next few years will not be a bear market or a recession.  This is full-scale depression behavior we are currently in the process of kicking off.  We’re swatting a mosquito while sitting on railroad tracks facing an oncoming train.  We’re focusing all our concern on the mosquito, paying no attention to a more catastrophic problem coming right at us.  The good news is that we still have time to step off the track, but every day we prevent commerce from happening by recommending that everyone remain in quarantine is a moment closer to our economy getting wrecked by the oncoming train.

An economy is not a light switch.  We can’t just turn it off for a few weeks then come back and expect to flip it back on.  It’s more like muscle fiber -- use it or lose it.  The American economy is strong and resilient, but we are foolish to think we can shut down massive amounts of travel and commerce and then expect to come back and just turn it back on weeks later.

Here is another analogy: Our economy is like a patient with an acute blood clot blocking significant blood supply to the brain.  Every passing moment, irreparable damage is caused to the brain.  Rapid medical treatment is available to dissolve the clot and allow blood to return to normal levels to the brain.  The sooner the patient gets treatment the less brain damage will be sustained.

The clot in our economy is the drastic reduction in commerce we are self-imposing right now with this quarantine effort.  Treatment for the clot is everyone going back to work and business operating as usual.  If we instead choose to let the clot stay in place, we are going to see irreparable and lasting damage to our economy that will prove to be much worse than this virus.

The virus remains a real threat, but this is how we should pivot and still take it seriously:  If you own a business -- keep it open.  If you have a job -- go do it.  If you can do equivalent work from home -- continue doing it.  If you are in management or in a decision-making role -- influence your organization to resume normal operation.  At the same time, we need to influence our government and media to change the instructions they are communicating to the public.  The message needs to change from: everyone stay home, to: stay home only if you are sick or suspect you may be getting sick, or if you have a compromised immune system.  Actions our government should take in addition to encouraging people to do their normal work are:  Advise/allow all business, organizations, and industries to resume normal operation.  Create and publish a list of health factors that would define someone as high-risk for the virus and advise only the high-risk individuals and their care-givers to remain in quarantine.

We all need to take courage and pull our collective heads out of the sand.  Just because the ostrich thinks his predator goes away when he sticks his head in the sand doesn’t make it go away.  The virus will still be here no matter how long we quarantine.  Prudent measures to prevent contracting the virus like washing our hands, not touching our face, and not touching other people should and can still be accomplished as we return to work.

Western civilization has saved the world more than once in the last century and we can lead the way again, but it might take a little courage.  We are Americans and we don’t just blindly follow our government.  We use critical thinking and we keep our government in check.  We do the right thing even if it goes against what the television is telling us.  Together we can thread the needle of taking the most prudent medical actions, while at the same time taking the most prudent economic actions to preserve the lives of those truly at risk, and prevent the impending disaster to our economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a legitimate crisis we should take seriously, but our response to this virus is putting us on course for a far worse disaster.  The instructions from the CDC, the World Health Organization, and all government officials at the federal, state, and local levels are ringing out with one clear message.  We’ve all heard it:  Wash your hands with soap and water, don’t touch your face, and stay home.  Two of these three are sound advice but instructing everyone to stay home instead of going to work is not going to end well if we attempt to do it for more than a few weeks.  Quarantining is a reasonable measure to protect our at-risk populations, but a quarantine will not kill the virus.  All the quarantine is designed to do is slow the spread of the virus to a level where we don’t all get it at once and overwhelm the hospitals. 

The medical challenge is only one factor in this crisis.  We no longer have just a medical crisis.  Our reaction to the virus is causing second and third order effects that are rapidly growing larger than the initial health problem.  The first step in solving a problem is identifying the problem, so we need to start considering all the factors.  If we don’t get off the path we’re on (quarantining everyone), the next few years will not be a bear market or a recession.  This is full-scale depression behavior we are currently in the process of kicking off.  We’re swatting a mosquito while sitting on railroad tracks facing an oncoming train.  We’re focusing all our concern on the mosquito, paying no attention to a more catastrophic problem coming right at us.  The good news is that we still have time to step off the track, but every day we prevent commerce from happening by recommending that everyone remain in quarantine is a moment closer to our economy getting wrecked by the oncoming train.

An economy is not a light switch.  We can’t just turn it off for a few weeks then come back and expect to flip it back on.  It’s more like muscle fiber -- use it or lose it.  The American economy is strong and resilient, but we are foolish to think we can shut down massive amounts of travel and commerce and then expect to come back and just turn it back on weeks later.

Here is another analogy: Our economy is like a patient with an acute blood clot blocking significant blood supply to the brain.  Every passing moment, irreparable damage is caused to the brain.  Rapid medical treatment is available to dissolve the clot and allow blood to return to normal levels to the brain.  The sooner the patient gets treatment the less brain damage will be sustained.

The clot in our economy is the drastic reduction in commerce we are self-imposing right now with this quarantine effort.  Treatment for the clot is everyone going back to work and business operating as usual.  If we instead choose to let the clot stay in place, we are going to see irreparable and lasting damage to our economy that will prove to be much worse than this virus.

The virus remains a real threat, but this is how we should pivot and still take it seriously:  If you own a business -- keep it open.  If you have a job -- go do it.  If you can do equivalent work from home -- continue doing it.  If you are in management or in a decision-making role -- influence your organization to resume normal operation.  At the same time, we need to influence our government and media to change the instructions they are communicating to the public.  The message needs to change from: everyone stay home, to: stay home only if you are sick or suspect you may be getting sick, or if you have a compromised immune system.  Actions our government should take in addition to encouraging people to do their normal work are:  Advise/allow all business, organizations, and industries to resume normal operation.  Create and publish a list of health factors that would define someone as high-risk for the virus and advise only the high-risk individuals and their care-givers to remain in quarantine.

We all need to take courage and pull our collective heads out of the sand.  Just because the ostrich thinks his predator goes away when he sticks his head in the sand doesn’t make it go away.  The virus will still be here no matter how long we quarantine.  Prudent measures to prevent contracting the virus like washing our hands, not touching our face, and not touching other people should and can still be accomplished as we return to work.

Western civilization has saved the world more than once in the last century and we can lead the way again, but it might take a little courage.  We are Americans and we don’t just blindly follow our government.  We use critical thinking and we keep our government in check.  We do the right thing even if it goes against what the television is telling us.  Together we can thread the needle of taking the most prudent medical actions, while at the same time taking the most prudent economic actions to preserve the lives of those truly at risk, and prevent the impending disaster to our economy.