Recessions exact a real human toll. They don’t just destroy people’s livelihoods or defer their dreams. In a recession, people go hungry, fall into depression, or even die by suicide. To ignore the economic damage done by pandemic-containment efforts is not to put human lives above profit; it is to ignore one form of suffering in the service of alleviating another.

So I understand the desire to stop social distancing. But people who now advocate that we “choose the economy” are not being honest about the consequences of that decision. According to all serious projections, a premature capitulation to the coronavirus would result in death on a truly monumental scale—far more than the country can, should, or needs to bear.

That is why the only rational way forward is to continue the national shutdown, for now, while we prepare for the second phase of the fight against the coronavirus. While it does impose serious hardship on everyone, this is by far the least bad option. And the more resolutely we act right now, the faster we will get back to some semblance of normality.