Coronavirus crazy: Santelli's bizarre suggestion to save the economy

I did not see this one coming. Rick Santelli, an on-air editor for CNBC, offered up a suggestion on how COVID-19 could be handled in the U.S. in order to minimize the damage being done to the American economy – just give the coronavirus to everyone and be done with it.

Yes, really, that is Santelli’s idea of dealing with the market’s panic over the growing epidemic. He was asked about the catalyst of recent chaos on Wall Street during an appearance on CNBC’s The Exchange. He responded by saying, “The catalyst? Just watch your local news. There’s your catalyst.” CNBC anchor Kelly Evans agreed with Santelli’s conclusion that the coronavirus is disrupting the stock market, saying “True.” And then Santelli elaborated on his opinion.

Santelli continued: “Of course, people are getting nervous. And listen, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a doctor. All I know is, think about how the world would be if you tried to quarantine everybody because of the generic-type flu. Now I’m not saying this is the generic-type flu. But maybe we’d be just better off if we gave it to everybody, and then in a month it would be over because the mortality rate of this probably isn’t going to be any different if we did it that way than the long-term picture, but the difference is we’re wreaking havoc on global and domestic economies.”

Adding to the craziness of this exchange is the fact that Ms. Evans isn’t phased at all about what she just heard from Santelli – she agrees with his theory that the spreading outbreak of the coronavirus is causing a panic on Wall Street and then she doesn’t challenge his suggestion that everyone should just be infected so that COVID-19 could run its course. She just went on with a standard question about the markets.

It’s all very 2020, isn’t it? We’ve become accustomed to some really bizarre conversations on our television screens but have we reached a point where the suggestion that the population of the United States is given a potentially deadly virus in order to save the stock market is not even questioned? You don’t have to be a CNBC anchor to come up with some fairly easy follow-up questions to that kind of madness. How would any of that even work? What about the health care system in our country? It would be overwhelmed. Those that we count on to care for the people infected – the medical professionals – would be ill, too. None of it makes any sense.

The medical community is working to contain the COVID-19, not spread it. A vaccine for the virus is still not available and may not be for up to a year or more. To suggest that the virus is unleashed onto everyone in the population is insane. The death toll alone would be staggering.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom said Tuesday that the COVID-19 coronavirus has killed 3.4% of those with reported cases, compared to the seasonal flu, which kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.

At that rate, if all 329 million Americans were infected at once, as Santelli suggested, the death toll would top 11 million. Even a fatality rate of 1.4%, which a February New England Journal of Medicine study suggested, based on cases in China, would result in 4.6 million deaths if every American was infected. (One leading epidemiology professor has suggested 40% to 70% of the world’s population will catch it this year, though most will have a mild reaction.)

To put that in perspective, an estimated 16,000 Americans have died from the seasonal flu this year. And the 1918 flu pandemic, in which at least 50 million people died worldwide, killed about 675,000 Americans.

It is very likely that we are on the cusp of a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in America. Each day we are hearing the numbers grow, though thankfully the numbers remain very low. In my own city, the first two cases were reported Thursday and a case in a surrounding county was reported. People are nervous, even those of us who are trying to remain calm and sensible about the likelihood of infection. COVID-19 is like the flu but it’s worse, it spreads more quickly, and it is more deadly. There is no vaccine as there is for the flu.

Santelli’s off-the-cuff suggestion was irresponsible and unnecessary. If he wanted to offer advice, he should have followed what the medical experts are telling us and reminded everyone of some common-sense methods of prevention. The same measures apply with COVID-19 as they do for the normal cold and flu season: wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, cover your coughs and sneezes (but not with your hands), avoid large crowds, if possible, and get to a doctor if you aren’t feeling well.

I’ll close with this – does Rick Santelli’s name sound familiar? It likely does because he is often referred to as the inspiration for the Tea Party movement. His impassioned rant on the floor of the CME aimed at the Obama administration’s Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan fired up conservatives to push back and organize against big government bail-outs. He was right then, but he’s dead wrong now.