Every state has embarked upon the journey to reopen its economy. This is occurring despite the absence of a federally directed program to ensure adequate PPE for essential workers (and the public), TESTING, and contact tracing, as well as the failure to fully use the Defense Production Act. Reopening of the economy is indeed necessary, but it serves us best if done in a manner which saves the most lives. Safely reopening the economy will be accomplished by the citizenry adhering to appropriate social distancing, wearing of face covering, and washing our hands as we return to activities.
There is science, which is both intellectual and practical, behind each of these measures, starting with why we “shut down” the economy in the first place through why certain behaviors are necessary to save lives. We will all benefit from following the science even though some seek individual and/or political gain by couching these measures purely in a divisive political light. Although it now seems like an eternity ago, the practical and economic rationale for shutting down the economy in March was to save lives by not overwhelming our healthcare system, especially the ICU capacity. Economists from Northwestern University declared that the short-term economic impact is a recession, but in the long run there is less death and more, still alive, workers to run the economy. A separate group of U. of Chicago economists projected that “the mortality benefits of social distancing are about $8 trillion”. Saving lives saves money! Since physicians’ focus is life and health, it cannot be left unsaid that a Columbia University study released this week estimated that 54,000 American lives could have been saved IF the shutdown had been implemented two weeks earlier.
The wearing of a face cover or mask has been made a political football by those who prefer to ignore the science and the concern for the health of others, and by extension their own. They are also ignoring the benefits derived by the economy if less people are ill. The simple facts are that the main mechanism of spread of the virus which causes COVID-19 is by airborne particles and droplets released by sneeze, cough, talking, laughing, or breathing. This was reconfirmed by a CDC update yesterday. The virus can easily travel up to six feet before falling to a surface. Additionally, 20-25% of people who test positive for the virus are not symptomatic. Lastly, some of the testing results are falsely negative. These facts are not political red or blue, but it is in black and white. Your wearing a face covering protects others from you and thereby increases everybody’s chance of remaining healthy and participating in our economy!
For the sake of maximizing our health and restoring our economy, while we wait for a vaccine or treatment, the science dictates that we need to socially distance and wear a face covering when we cannot socially distance. Please also cover your cough/sneeze and wash your hands frequently. All these simple things can be done as we enjoy the warm weather outdoors. The vulnerable among us need to maximize their social distancing, for now.
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association