The 2009 pandemic known as the Swine Flu resulted in 12,469 deaths and 274,000 hospitalizations stemming from 60.8 million cases in the United States alone, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). We don’t know the final tally for the current pandemic. Much has been written already comparing and contrasting the reactions by President Obama and President Trump to the threats of each pandemic.
This is not going to address that. Hindsight is often (not always) 20/20, and there are too many “what ifs” when dealing with complex situations such as these to confidently state what should have been done or what was the correct course of action. We are still in the middle of the fight against the Coronavirus (Covid-19), making analysis even more questionable, especially by amateur internet sleuths.
The nagging question going forward is this: How are we supposed to react to the next potential threat? Not just pandemics, but any and all threats. What are the criteria for determining whether to wait and see or to act quickly? When comparing numbers to previous pandemics, this one is far less destructive thus far. How will it compare in the final analysis? Well, we have to wait until those numbers can be tallied.
There are other threats that we face daily. Death is part of life, and we accept that reality, generally without panic. Obesity, sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, and smoking all contribute to avoidable deaths every year, yet we don’t shut down the economy, quarantine the general public, and suspend the 1st amendment right to free assembly and religion in order to save lives.
We have done that in reaction (I’ll go ahead and say overreaction) to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) threat. Back to the nagging question: what is the threshold for shutting down businesses and shackling our great grandchildren’s generation with additional debt? How many lives are required to be at risk before we close restaurant dining rooms? How many additional lives justify closing barbershops? Those aren’t rhetorical or snarky questions. What are the criteria to justify those actions?
Granted, we are in unchartered territory here in 2020. But the unchartered area isn’t the threat; it’s the reaction. Pandemics, natural disasters, wars, and the inevitability of our mortality are all familiar and universal not just to us, but throughout. We’ve faced them and survived, even thrived. Shoot, we even survived that time when God got mad and flooded the place.
We have never reacted to a threat in this manner. We may never know whether or not it was effective. We didn’t react this way in 2009, when we lost 12,469 of our friends and family, but we made it through. We can’t ward off all evil or every threat. As cold and impersonal as it sounds, we have to make decisions as to what are acceptable and unacceptable losses and investments to combat threats. Like it or not, we do that already in countless areas of society.
There are limits to what we can do to eliminate the risk of living. Let’s take school bus accidents for an example. We could ban all traffic on the roads during the time school buses are running in order to minimize the risk that someone will collide with a bus and injure a child. We don’t do that, even “if we saved one life, it would be worth it.” As a society we’ve come to the conclusion that such a drastic measure is not worth it, even to save one life.
We still have to wait to see if life returns to normal after this panic. Will we restore our right to free assembly and religion? Will we allow the government to arbitrarily determine what industries and businesses are essential and allowed to engage in commerce or will we demand that markets be set free? Will we allow the government to do this again? What are the criteria to repeat this?
Largely ignoring the problem worked out in 2009. Maybe it would have in 2020? We’ll never know. What about next time? What will the government demand and what will be our response? That is indeed a nagging question.