The economy has taken a beating with this shutdown, with tens of millions of jobs lost in the US alone and hundreds of billions dollars (at least). Many governments and businesses – mine included – will most likely not survive another shutdown. Another outbreak is possible, maybe inevitable, but another period of social distancing, economic shutdown, etc., will cripple the US and world economy and destabilize some or most political systems for decades, if not permanently.
With that truth staring us in the face, it has become a grisly truth that we may have to soldier on through the next outbreak – take as many precautions as we can, wear face masks, try to keep our distance, wash our hands, work from home if feasible – no matter how many lives it takes, or how many of us are infected. We may have to work through the next outbreak just to survive, economically and politically.
In this scenario, the economy is more important than individual citizens because it supports so many citizens. So our choice may ultimately be: try to survive a pandemic, while working, or try to survive a collapsing global economy, while not working.
The purpose of the shutdown was to slow down, or limit, the number of severe infections and deaths, the number of people coming to the hospital, to the emergency room, needing inpatient care, so that the hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed with too many sick and dying people at once. Again: the purpose of the shutdown was not to protect the public from infection, it was not (primarily) to save lives. It was to keep the hospitals from becoming overcrowded, to slow down the rate of infection, to try to keep the number of deaths down to something manageable.
That doesn’t mean our lives aren’t important. But, the top priority was trying to avoid the debilitating of hundreds of thousands of deaths on the system over a very short time.
And, the purpose of ending the shutdown even as some states’ infection statistics rise is to avoid a six-month or year-long economic shutdown, and its disastrous effects nationally. So, many people – especially the ones protesting the shutdowns – are fine with opening the economy and. People are going to die and we are all going to be at risk, they say, and that is just inevitable, if we are going to get this country moving again.
We can be philosophical about death when we think someone else will get sick or lose their life to COVID-19. But, are we still okay with it, if it is us? If it is me? If I become infected, will I be able to accept my illness as an acceptable consequence of keeping the economy going? If it’s a member of my family? One of my friends?
If I die, will I still be okay with the uncomfortable home truth that sometimes people’s lives have to be sacrificed for the greater economic and personal good? That I am an acceptable, maybe necessary, casualty? Will knowing that the country is moving again make me feel better? Will knowing that my government is still strong make my own death easier? Will I be able to live with dying for the greater good?