As Tom Friedman synthesizes it here, the smart thing to do may be to get healthy young people back to their normal lives fairly soon — to school and to work, to restaurants and bars — while taking all possible precautions to protect and care for older and less healthy people.  I’ll come back to this — it’s controversial for sure.  But if wise, compassionate, science-trained minds decide there’s something to it, then things could start looking up in a few weeks rather than a few months . . . IF — ONE URGENTLY ADDS AFTER LISTENING TO THIS MORNING’S “THE DAILY” — ALL BUT ESSENTIAL WORKERS (AND THOSE WHO’VE DEFINITIVELY RECOVERED) RIGOROUSLY SELF-ISOLATE.




In Philadelphia, the 1918 flu reportedly took 16,000 lives within 6 months of the massive Liberty Loan Parade the city decided not to cancel.

In St. Louis — which cancel its parade — just 700 died.

There were surely other factors involved, not least Philadelphia’s larger population (1.8 million versus 800,00).

But it matters what policies governments adopt, and — especially when something is “going viral” — how quickly they adopt them.

One wishes we had the same kind of deeply professional, deeply experienced, federal government we did before 2017 . . .

. . . or that they have in South Korea, where — though their first case was recorded the same day as ours — the virus seems to have been contained.

You’ve seen this calendar, right?



This summary of the risks by age group, though certain to be refined as more data become available, is key to charting a sensible path forward.

If — just to make the point — we knew that NO ONE under 50 died from the virus or required scarce hospital beds, then, clearly, we’d be crazy not to encourage all such people to go about their daily lives — while keeping old folks away from them until a cure or vaccine were found.

In reality, people under 5o do die from the virus and do compete for scare hospital beds.

Like this otherwise-healthy 26-year-old who made NBC Nightly News after she recovered.

So — and this is the point of the Tom Friedman column (and of this column by David Katz) — some sensible balance should be found.

Just as the incoming Bush administration was warned of a “tremendous,” “immediate” threat it ignored* . . . and then over-reacted by invading the wrong country at a cost of trillions . . . so this incoming administration was warned (and again) . . . ignored those warnings . . . and now — having missed the opportunity South Korea seized — our nation may be on the brink of an over-reaction.

If the rapidly accumulating data bear out the notion that it’s almost entirely older people who are at serious risk from the virus, and/or people with serious underlying medical conditions, then we should do everything we can to keep them in loving isolation until there is a cure and/or vaccine . . . and certainly until we have a giant stockpile of ventilators and masks and gowns.

But what about healthy younger people who don’t live with their grandparents?

If we decide it’s acceptably safe for them to go back to school and to work and to restaurants — elbow bumping, hand-washing, and staying home if they feel sick — well, that’s much of the U.S. economy right there.

That’s the debate we’ll be having in the days and weeks to come.

Good people can have differing views on how and where to strike the balance.

For example, yesterday’s sobering must-read New York Times report on defeating the virus — BY THE SAME NEW YORK TIMES SENIOR SCIENCE REPORT DONALD MACNEIL YOU’LL HEAR ON “THE DAILY” PODCAST — suggests it may not be wise to shut most schools.

When will it be an acceptable trade-off to allow healthy young-ish people to go out to dinner (again: if they don’t share living quarters or work space with the vulnerable)?

All this will be much easier once testing is widely available.  And once there are ways to “certify” survivors who’ve become immune, who could play a particularly important role in this fight.

I read conflicting opinions and try to make sense of it all.  But as bad as the next few weeks will be, I’m beginning to think that I — or at least my young friends — will not be quarantined as long as feared.  And that depression-style unemployment rates may not last more than a short time.

AND THEN I LISTENED TO “THE DAILY” PODCAST, TITLED, “WHY THE AMERICAN APPROACH IS FAILING,” AND THE ONLY THING I’M SURE OF IS THAT NONE OF US SHOULD RISK EXPOSING ANYONE ELSE UNTIL WE’VE “FLATTENED THE CURVE.”

OTHERWISE, THE DEBATE IS STARK: DO WE ALLOW THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM TO COLLAPSE , LEAVING POTENTIALLY MILLIONS TO DIE — INCLUDING MANY WHO CANNOT GET HOSPITAL CARE FOR ALL THE NON-VIRUS RELATED CONDITIONS THAT ORDINARILY KEEP OUR HOSPITALS CLOSE TO FULL — IN ORDER TO KEEP GET THE ECONOMY MOVING?  I HAVE AT LEAST ONE YOUNG FRIEND WHO THINKS SHUTTING DOWN THE ECONOMY WOULD ULTIMATELY BE WORSE THAN LOSING A FEW MILLION (MOSTLY OLDER) AMERICANS.  SO +THAT’S+ THE DEBATE.


*You can read about it in Bob Woodward’s largely pro-Bush Bush at War. Go to Amazon and ‘Search Inside the Book’ on “About a week before Bush’s inauguration” and you’ll find it at page 34 of the paperback. You will see that “President Clinton had approved five separate intelligence orders authorizing covert action to attempt to destroy bin Laden and his network.” The CIA was urging Bush to continue or step up those efforts; instead, he shut them down and (we know from Bush’s first Treasury Secretary’s book) turned his attention to Iraq.

 

 

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