“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” tweeted the president on Sunday night, adding that, after the current 15-day shutdown, “we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
President Trump is said to be privately expressing a deepening concern at the damage the coronavirus shutdown is doing to the U.S. economy and debating whether it can be safely reopened.
Though castigated for his remark, Trump has a point.
The U.S. is rightly using extreme measures to meet the threat and control the virus that threatens the lives of millions of Americans, with the elderly sick foremost among them. And we need to do so without killing the economy upon which scores of millions of other Americans depend.
Clearly, America was unprepared for this pandemic.
And there will be time enough to assess responsibility for the lack of surgical masks, medical gowns, rubber gloves, respirators, ventilators and hospital beds.
The immediate imperative is to produce those beds and that equipment and get it delivered to doctors, nurses and hospital staff, the front-line troops in the battle to control the virus.
However, during this shutdown, all “nonessential businesses” are being closed and their workers sent home to shelter in place and to keep “social distance” from friends and neighbors to minimize the risk of spreading this easily transmissible virus.
Unfortunately, what is “nonessential” to some — bars, restaurants, hotels, stores, cruise ships, tourist sites, shops, malls — are places of employment and indispensable sources of income for millions of other Americans.
Close the businesses where these Americans work and you terminate the paychecks on which they depend to pay the rent and buy the food and medicines they and their families need to shelter and live. And if the salaries and wages on which workers depend are cut off, how are these millions of newly unemployed supposed to live?
How do those who follow the instructions of the president and governors to remain in their homes get their prescriptions filled and buy the food to feed their families?
How long can the shutdown be sustained if the necessities of life for the unemployed and unpaid begin to run out? Is it necessary to create an economic and social crisis to solve the medical crisis?
“We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” was a remark attributed to a U.S. Army officer in the Vietnam War. Must we cripple or destroy the economy to rescue the American nation from the coronavirus crisis of 2020?
Then there is the matter of time. Many Americans can survive on what they have on hand for two or four weeks. Far fewer can survive without income for two or four months.
If we shut down the economy, what will we have when the medical crisis passes, be that in May, June, July, August or September?