Without intending to convey disrespect in any way, I begin by suggesting that our government leaders have thus far instituted policies that do not require the most intensive strategic thinking, planning and implementation: full-stop — shut everything down. These policies are driven by epidemiologists who understand epidemiology and whose noble focus is on how to eradicate the virus no matter how long it takes. But it is painfully obvious that the social and financial costs associated with full-stop are rapidly becoming devastating in dimensions beyond the terrible toll of the virus itself and will continue to inflict substantial harm to society over a long period unless our elected officials also turn some of their attention to the other systemwide problems this pandemic and their full-stop policies have created.
The extension of full-stop policies through April seems necessary given how late, disorganized and ill-prepared we were as a nation in initially addressing the crisis. The extension can be rationalized further as buying time enough for economists, data scientists and other social-science professionals to inform the design of updated policies that address the full range of societal problems this crisis, and the initial policies to mitigate it, have spawned. But they should be short-lived and replaced by more strategic policies that address the full scope of critical societal issues. Gov. Jay Inslee recently stated, “The fastest way to economic recovery is the recovery of our health.“ But the issue of health is much broader than the governor’s definition and should include other biological, physiological and mental-health issues created by full-stop policies, as well as the host of maladies associated with the unprecedented economic disaster that is growing at an alarming rate and is already projected to make the Great Depression of the 1930s seem minor in relative terms.
Full-stop loses its justification if leaders offer only rolling extensions of shutdowns without addressing the extreme negative impacts on the holistic health of our society, which will accelerate the longer full-stop policies that are in place. The current federal government financial support actions, while better than nothing, will not address the longer-run destruction of our vital small-business sector and the welfare of the tens of millions of citizens employed in it. These fixes are inadequate to address even the short-run economic and additional health problems that full-stop is creating. This is not a crisis that should be informed and addressed solely by MDs and epidemiologists in isolation. A wider coalition of professionals that includes social-science scholars who study and understand the broader negative ramifications of societal crises need to contribute to the design of more sustainable and strategic actions that consider the state of the states, and the United States, now and after.
Why has there not been sufficient consideration given to tapping into American citizens’ and businesses’ (both large and small) sense of responsibility, ingenuity and entrepreneurial prowess to have them join with government to mitigate the crisis? Instead, our elected officials act as if the primary solution is relegating them to cowering in bunkers, awaiting the end of the crisis. Enlist them to become part of the solution to this multidimensional crisis. We have a right to expect deeper, more creative and more holistic strategic thinking that leads to actions that go well beyond a singular focus on eradicating the virus. Second-generation policies must have the goal of also mitigating the other enormous costs and societal problems that if ignored will plague states and the country for years.
Among other things, an objective of second-generation policies must be to reopen much of the small-business sector (yes, including restaurants, bars, nail salons, dentist offices and casinos). Of course, this could not be “business as usual” — such policies must include new, well-designed and strictly enforced guidelines that support continued mitigation of the virus, and hold citizens and businesses responsible for implementing and adhering to them. Seating capacities would be restricted, additional separation of patrons would be mandated, stricter sanitation protocols would be required (like staff wearing gloves, continual applications of sanitizers) and other relevant Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines adhered to.
If an establishment or individual violates such new coronavirus-mitigation regulations, then the offending establishment is shut down or the individuals are dealt with, as we do now for other important safety regulations in society. And if it is demonstrated via monitoring of viral-infection rates that resurgence is nevertheless occurring, stricter measures would need to be reinstated. Surely we can do this, putting a large part of the rapidly increasing number of displaced citizens back to work, mitigating a free-falling economy before it hits rock bottom, while still pursuing continued effective attenuation of virus infection trajectories as a critical and monitored goal. We must deal with the multiple aspects of the crisis simultaneously, and not continue to implement a singular dimensional approach that only carries with it a hope that we can pick up what’s left of the pieces afterward.
Protection of human life must continue to be the overarching paramount goal of our policies. But we should not accept anything less from our government officials than strategic and well-thought-out comprehensive policies and actions that address the full spectrum of societal impacts of this crisis and that seek to minimize long-lasting, and in some cases irreparable, damage to businesses, individuals, society, our future way of life and the younger generation of citizens among us.