At Arc Digital, Esther O’Reilly asks, “Why should we assume that a crashing economy would leave the healthcare system standing?” Fleshing out the matter, she writes, “You can’t keep the hospital lights on without keeping on the lights of the economic sectors undergirding it. Yes, our doctors and nurses are running out of masks and gloves, which is a serious problem. It would also be a serious problem if we lost the means and the manpower to make more, or if the hospitals ran out of cash on hand to buy more beds, ventilators, etc. And there’s the rub. We are being told we can’t fight the virus without pausing the economy, yet we can’t fight the virus without the economy.”
School closures may do long-term damage, as well. A recent study in The Lancet concluded that “the evidence for the effectiveness of school closures and other school social distancing measures comes almost entirely from influenza outbreaks,” and that the effectiveness of school measures in a coronavirus outbreak is uncertain. Another article in The Lancet noted that “education is one of the strongest predictors of the health and the wealth of a country’s future workers, and the impact of long-term school closure on educational outcomes, future earnings, the health of young people, and future national productivity has not been quantified.” A given closure could add months to the lives of some and subtract from the lives of others.
The general point is that minimizing the number of COVID-19 deaths today or a month from now or six months from now may or may not minimize the human costs of the pandemic when the full spectrum of human consequences is considered. The last global depression created conditions for a catastrophic world war that killed roughly 75 to 80 million people. Is that a possibility? The downside risks and costs of every approach are real, frightening, and depressing, no matter how little one thinks of reopening now.