It didn’t last. My outlook was changed quite rapidly by the steady accumulation of evidence on the other side of the ledger: the virus quickly spread far beyond China, showing it was highly contagious; it began killing large numbers of people in Italy; and sick people there soon began overwhelming hospitals, forcing doctors to make horrible choices about rationing care. These three developments and the possibility of them being replicated in the United States in a matter of weeks pointed to the need for a drastic reevaluation of the situation.
The abandonment of my skepticism about the threat posed by the virus has left me greatly worried and plagued by darker doubts. Was it really necessary to put the American — and increasingly the world — economy through the trauma and destabilization of a sudden stop? Maybe that’s what’s required to defeat the virus, protect lives, and avoid suffering on an Italian (or worse) scale around the world. The problem is we don’t really know how much economic carnage is likely to follow from our actions — or how bad the political consequences of that carnage might be. If the world is plunged into its first depression in 90 years, we may come to question the wisdom of what we have done over the past two weeks. But for the moment, we just don’t know.
Uncertainty — skepticism’s discontented twin — can be very hard to live with. But it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to. In our present dire circumstances, we simply have no other choice.