April 30, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Without a Vaccine, There’s No Normal
Does Trump know life wasn't designed for "social distancing"?
Tuesday saw a milestone. More people have died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, than all the military men who died fighting in the Vietnam War. I would call it a double milestone, however. While American involvement in southeast Asia lasted about 19 years, the current pandemic has lasted just a month and a half.
The death toll, as of this writing, is 61,700. Without a vaccine, there’s no end in sight. If we’re lucky, the virus will disappear on its own. Those are terrible odds, though. It’s best not to trust anyone telling you things will go back to normal. Because they won’t.
Be careful about who you place your trust in. Do leaders have your best interests in mind? Maybe—and maybe not.
Yes, the numbers are peaking in places like New York City, but that’s the result of stay-at-home orders and other “social distancing” measures put in place to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed. Once those restrictions are lifted, as a result of their working in the first place, there’s almost certainly going to be a second wave that could be worse. (There’s almost certainly going to be a first wave in rural areas of the country.) All this could drive us all back to where we are now. At home.
This is a fact. There’s no getting around it. Yes, the US economy is suffering badly. The official number of unemployed has now topped 30 million. (That’s most likely an undercount.) However, you are doing your part for yourself and your fellow citizens. Staying home, after all, is what’s slowing the disease’s spread. It’s up to the federal government to “provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Another fact: It is not.
The White House would like you to believe society will normalize in a jiffy. The Gross Domestic Product shrank by nearly 5 percent last quarter. This quarter is expected to be much worse. But Larry Kudlow, the president’s economics advisor, said the GDP will “should snap back.” This is the same guy who said, of the outbreak in February, that, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.”
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The New Haven Register reported Saturday the results of a new medical study out of Yale. Researchers found most patients suffering from Covid-19 did not have a fever. Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at the Yale School of Medicine, said public health officials “may have to redefine” how they approach the disease. “If most people don’t develop a fever, then screening for fever is not a good public health practice.”
You can say that again.
Colleges and universities are assuming the worst will be over by the time classes begin in the fall. That’s an enormous assumption. First, because dorms are where you catch things you don’t catch anywhere else. If you can catch chlamydia in college, you can catch the new coronavirus. Second, because nothing about college life is built for “social distancing.” Classrooms, dorms, labs, libraries, theaters, stadiums—nothing. And if students can be infected without being feverish, what’s the point of screening?
Before you think young people aren’t vulnerable, recall a report by the Post showing young people, who aren’t supposed to suffer strokes, stroking out. “Doctors are sounding the alarm about patients in their 30s and 40s left debilitated or dead after major strokes. Some didn’t even know they were infected with the disease caused by the coronavirus.” Have I mentioned that professors, who teach young people, are often elderly? Are they going to trust administrators to have their best interests in mind?
Reckless leaders will just come out and say the cash-value of your life is less than the cash-value of your labor.
Maybe. Fact is, institutions large and small—whether colleges and universities, local churches and entertainment venues, or Major League Baseball—they all of them feel tremendous financial pressure to jumpstart normal life, and they are going to look on the bright side despite the bright side being frequently cast in a shadow of doubt.
They have status-quo bias. They are going to presume the best even when there are 61,700 and counting reasons to presume the worst in the absence of a vaccine. They will weigh the cost of standing idle versus the cost of your well-being, and your well-doing, though important, might not be as important to them as the hard bottom line.
Most have good intentions. Most will be careful. Some will be reckless, though. Indeed, some will just come out and say the cash-value of your life is less than the cash-value of your labor, and as a consequence, we are going to use state power to force you back to work even if doing so exposes you and everyone else to a deadly disease. In Iowa, for instance, the governor’s office warned employees that refusing to go back to work out of concern for one’s well-being will be considered a “voluntary quit,” which would disqualify workers from access to unemployment insurance.
Life will return to normal—eventually. But in the absence of a vaccine (or good luck), be careful about who you put your trust in. Do they have your best interests in mind?
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.