It’s still shocking how quickly everything changed. Because the novel coronavirus is highly infectious, the United States quickly shut down much of its economy to slow the virus’ spread. Still, some question whether we should take such drastic measures. In a controversial Facebook post, Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith echoed these thoughts, arguing that it was time to go back to normal because we’ve faced tougher situations before such as World War II, the Great Depression and the 9/11 terrorist attacks without making the same sacrifices.
Arguments like Smith’s are based on false analogies. There are indeed deadlier diseases and more frightening events that didn't force us to shut down the economy. However, the novel coronavirus isn't like those, and it demands that we make a strategy to stop its spread unlike the strategies used to deal with other problems.
In his post, Smith encouraged Americans to be brave, reenter the workforce with some social distancing practices and largely go back to normal.
“Fearless fire fighters [sic] and police officers ran into burning buildings on Sept. 11, 2001,” Smith wrote. “Soldiers walked onto the battlefield with bombs flying overhead during multiple wars to protect our freedoms. It’s now time for us to emerge from our homes.”
It should go without saying, but an infectious virus is not comparable to war or terrorism. We needed the bravery of the soldiers and first responders during wars and the 9/11 terrorist attacks to save lives. Saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, means we have to stay home.
Still, although Smith’s arguments are more extreme than most, I’ve heard variations that are both common and sound more reasonable going back to the early days when some compared the novel coronavirus to the flu. A close friend of mine, for example, argued that the measures taken to shut down the economy were an overreaction because we don't shut down the economy to stop cancer, which kills far more Americans every year than COVID-19 likely will.
The issue with arguments like these is that the comparison fails under greater scrutiny. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu and pneumonia killed 55,672 people in 2017. However, the flu is less infectious than the novel coronavirus, and we have a flu vaccine to protect ourselves. Thus, we don't need to shut the economy down for the flu. In any case, as experts have said, that the flu is also deadly is not a good reason to allow another disease to become established too.
Similarly, cancer is a blight on society, but it doesn’t require us to shut down the economy because it’s not contagious. On the other hand, someone infected with the novel coronavirus might not have any symptoms but can still infect everyone around them. That forces us to react differently than we do to cancer.
Part of why we need shut down is to buy time for the government to ramp up the production of supplies and testing. The Trump administration is increasing testing so that each state can screen at least 2% of its population, but some experts say this still isn’t enough. They believe that much more testing is needed to help government officials trace the virus to stop future outbreaks.
It’s difficult to compare the COVID-19 pandemic to other problems we’ve faced. If we don’t follow a strategy tailored to it, then we won’t be able to stop it from spreading.