Markets amid coronavirus

Social distancing remains essential to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

THE ISSUE

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Our people want to return to work. They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! ... We will come back strong!” In a Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday afternoon, Trump said, “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter” (April 12). His medical advisers say the only hope of slowing the spread of COVID-19 is to keep strict social distancing practices in place until the data suggest they can be eased.

We can’t believe we even have to say this but here goes: Grandparents must not be sacrificed to save our economy.

That sentence seems ridiculous. But in an interview Monday night on Fox News, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asserted that it was time for Americans to return to work to stave off an economic collapse. He ventured: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Patrick’s assertion — that grandparents gladly will risk dying so their grandkids can resume normal life — set off a fierce debate online. As did the president’s suggestion that the well-being of the economy should be our foremost concern now.

These assertions are cavalier, to say the least.

We don’t see older people — or other individuals in high-risk categories — as expendable. They are vital to our families, to this country.

Some of our parents and grandparents went to war to fight for this nation. We can’t tough it out for a while to save them from a respiratory illness that could kill them in a particularly painful way? That could kill us in a particularly painful way?

COVID-19 is not the flu. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has explained, it’s deadlier than the flu. We don’t have a vaccine for it. And we have no immunity against it.

Fauci said Tuesday at the White House coronavirus briefing that while the president may want to open up businesses by Easter, “You can look at a date, but you’ve got to be very flexible.”

The data and ramped-up testing will help to determine the way to go, Fauci rightly said.

The clamor

We know that small business owners and workers are suffering because of the economic slowdown. We’re hoping the stimulus bill before Congress offers them relief.

The economy will recover. But we will not be able to reclaim lives that are needlessly lost to COVID-19.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, theorized Tuesday that perhaps we “can target zones where the virus is less prevalent. ... There is a clamor to try to reopen the economy.”

If we knew the true extent of the spread of this novel coronavirus in every state, that eventually might be a possibility. But we don’t yet.

If only hospitals — in every state — had the intensive care unit beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment that will be needed when COVID-19 cases inevitably increase.

But hospitals don’t. We need to buy them some more time to prepare.

Fox News host Ed Henry noted Tuesday that the mortality rate of COVID-19 has been estimated (not universally) to be less than 1%. “Every life matters,” he mused, “and you don’t want to minimize any of them. But when the mortality rate is that low, what is the balance?”

Thomas Bossert, Trump’s former Homeland Security adviser, responded on Twitter: “The case fatality rate is the percentage of people infected that die. People saying it’s only 1% must acknowledge the total number goes up, in real lost lives, if we prematurely return to open society (without) controls. More infected people means more total deaths.”

Bossert is a Republican. So, too, are Sens. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Cheney tweeted this Tuesday morning: “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.”

Graham tweeted this Monday: “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world.”

‘First order of business’

“My mother is not expendable. And your mother is not expendable. And our brothers and sisters, they’re not expendable,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “We’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life. First order of business is save lives. Period.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, is trying to manage a terrible surge of COVID-19 cases in his state, where the contagion curve is rising alarmingly. He argues that we can develop an “economic startup strategy that is consistent with a public health strategy.”

“If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy then it’s no contest,” Cuomo said. “No American is going to say, ‘Accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.’ ”

We hope he’s right.

Because COVID-19 cases are increasing exponentially in other states, too, including our own.

On March 17, Pennsylvania had 96 cases. As of Tuesday, the commonwealth had 851 — and seven deaths. (That rose Wednesday to 1,127 confirmed cases and 11 deaths.) 

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said cases are doubling “every two, or at most, three days.”

Case for staying home

Thomas Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said this week on Twitter that “big social distancing measures take time to work. ... To drop all these measures now would be to accept that COVID (patients) will get sick in extraordinary numbers all over the country, far beyond what the US health care system could bear.”

Lancaster County ophthalmologist David Silbert asserts in a letter to the editor today that Pennsylvania actually needs to do more than close all but life-sustaining businesses — it needs a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Gov. Tom Wolf has issued such an order only to eight counties so far.)

If we don’t slow the spread of this novel coronavirus, Silbert writes, “Many health workers will be infected; many will die. I will lose colleagues and friends to this crisis — a crisis that can be averted.”

He is right. We can try to keep the worst from happening, but that means mustering the resolve to do so.

It means heeding the infectious disease experts who are telling us to stay home — to save not just our grandparents but countless others.

And it means heeding this plea, issued Tuesday by the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association: “Staying at home in this urgent moment is our best defense to turn the tide against COVID-19. Physicians, nurses and health care workers are staying at work for you. Please stay at home for us.”

(Number of Pennsylvania cases updated Wednesday, March 25, at 1:10 p.m.)