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Contextualizing the Covid-19 crisis

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  • Contextualizing the Covid-19 crisis

    One of the weird things I have found about the covid-19 crisis is that often I mostly agree with the facts about it with somebody, but come to a very different conclusion about how we should approach it.

    My opinion is that we need to really focus on opening up the economy as soon as possible. That said, there is a lot of beliefs I share with people who are very apprehensive about opening up the economy. Some of the beliefs in that common ground include:

    1. Covid-19 is a highly contagious disease that is significantly more deadly than the annual flu (though I probably think the death rate is lower in completed cases (cases resulting in recovery or death than those in the other camp. I thinking like .5% death rate and they are thinking like 2%)
    2. That stay at home orders and the like have saved lots of lives.
    3. That opening the economy back up will result in more deaths.
    4. That the U.S. response to the corona virus has been a mixed bag. We blew it on things like testing, but the governors saved lives by issuing stay at home orders and the populace for the most part has done their share by staying at home and taking new pre-cautions.

    I think states should focus on opening back up the economy though they should continue to take a lot of pre-cautions. To me if the difference between opening back up (but things not going back to normal, people continue to wear masks, wash their hands, avoid things like shaking hands, stores continue to wipe everything down with disinfectant) and keeping things as they are was the difference between 200,000 deaths and 400,000 deaths before a vaccine becomes available, I would open things back and try to minimize the damage to the economy and accept the 400,000 deaths.

    One major issue is, neither side really knows how many extra deaths there would be in the different scenarios. My answer would change if instead the difference in deaths was between 200,000 and 1,000,000. You have multiplied the cost of opening back up in that case by a factor of 4 (200,000 deaths vs. 800,000 deaths) compared to my first example where the difference was between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths. Part of that goes back to we don't have a great read on what the actual death rate is going to be (which goes back to the fact that we blew the testing).

    In addition to the difference in deaths, I also think different people weigh the damage to the economy differently. Just like we haven't had an medical epedemic this severe since 1918, we haven't had a monster economic depression since 1929 and I think people who haven't lived through one may underestimate the human cost of a true economic depression. In 1929 the population, the population somewhere between 2.5 and 3 times smaller than today. Do you think they would have traded 400,000 deaths (Roughly the equivalent of between 1,000,000 and 1,200,000 deaths today adjusting for population). For the most part I think they would have. If as an indvidual was given a choice between living today with the risk of illness due to covid-19 or to live in a world without covid-19 because suffering from an economic depression on the scale of the Great Depression, I would choose covid-19 in a heartbeat. That is not to say that keeping the economy partially closed until their is a vaccine will result in something on the scale of the Great Depression, just like we don't know the death rate for covid-19 we don't know what type of economic damage we will sustain through partially closing the economy--- just that when it comes to what I fear more---I fear an economic depression a lot more than covid-19.