It’s Time To Move Forward

This week’s Courier Herald column:

We thought it would be two weeks.  It’s been over two months.

While we as a people were briefly united at the beginning of the pandemic – at least as much as we can be these days – we’ve begun to devolve into our more typical posture.  Instead of us versus the virus, too many of us have now defaulted into us versus them.

While this is typically a political column I’ve tried to avoid the overt politics of the pandemic response thus far.  It’s not that some haven’t understood from the beginning that this was a crisis that shouldn’t go to waste.  Others had the instincts of Operation Petticoat’s Lt Holden knowing in confusion there is profit.  

Yes, some are attempting to use this situation for political gain.  Others have figured out how to make money despite the economic carnage.  I don’t pretend this isn’t happening.  I also won’t pretend I can fix either with 700 or so printed words.

Most of us, however, are still just trying to make sense of it all.  Rather than picking a side and trying to scream louder than the other, let’s break this down into parts that won’t please either extreme, but hopefully gets us closer to a place where we’re comfortable with our ongoing discomfort.

We’ve had numerous graphs thrown at us since this began. Social media seemed to create a new cottage industry of chart making to explain where we were in the stages of a pandemic. An axiom I was taught by a professor at UGA when beginning a related course of study:  There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. 

Between faulty or irregular data and models that were based on constantly changing testing protocols, there’s a valid question if a time sequence of Covid-19 cases is useful.  We can argue that all day, but the one statistic that matters is that of hospital utilization.  That, after all, was the justification for shutting down the economy and sheltering in place.  We didn’t want our healthcare system overrun without the people, equipment, or protective gear to treat the wave of infected patients jamming the system. 

We were asked to flatten the curve.  We did.

There was an economic cost to do this, and it is in the trillions of dollars and counting. Some have decided to move the goal posts and demand we all remain huddled in our homes while “essential” workers tend to our needs (and have the government pay for it). The prevalent argument is that if you want to reopen the economy, you’re willing to let people die.

The counter position seems to be that walking the wrong way down a grocery aisle without wearing a mask is somehow patriotic.  I fully expect to see some advocate for licking doorknobs in public as an act of defiance.

This is typical of all-or-nothing, us versus them public debate these days. Everything is presented in black and white.  There is no room for nuanced shades of gray. 

There is room for a middle ground, but that middle ground demands we seek to return to normal sooner rather than later.  Normal can and should add protective measures, but it can’t and won’t be risk free.  Life never is.

This doesn’t mean I’m advocating for the economy over death.  Continuing to shelter in place, however, will cause more deaths than we’ve experienced due to Covid-19.

In an update on May 12th, Governor Kemp cited a Wall Street Journal article noting that cancer diagnoses are down 30% since the pandemic began.  Unless we believe sheltering in place cures cancer, we have to conclude that those of us who have put off routine doctor visits have delayed finding out that we have other health issues that need treatment.  This means that more people will die of cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses because they didn’t seek treatment soon enough. 

Instead of hospitals being overrun with patients, they’re laying off health care professionals.  Emory Healthcare and Wellstar Health System, two of the state’s largest healthcare providers, have already announced layoffs in the thousands. 

Our healthcare system is critical to our wellbeing.  The shutdown that we started in order to save it is now killing it.

I’m not going to try to tell you what your comfort level should be with various forms of public contact. I will state that hiding in our homes waiting for everything to be OK will kill more than our economy.  It can kill any of us with an undetected, untreated medical condition.

We must continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of disease. Those of us in at-risk groups must be even more careful, and more tentative in public plans and trips. 

We must also begin to move forward again. We must balance the risk of doing something against the very high costs of doing nothing.


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