With prior epidemics, like Ebola and SARS, the world has been able to stamp out the virus, quashing its spread before it reached an unmanageable number. Quarantining sick people or even sick villages and towns has worked. Contact tracing and tracking has been successful in identifying potential carriers and stopping the spread. Unless it crosses from an animal host to a human again, both SARS and Ebola have been successfully eradicated, at least for the time being.
Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spread to far too fast to give us any chance of eliminating it, and the sooner people recognize this, the better.
Thanks in part to China and the WHO withholding information about the virus, the Wuhan Flu spread around the globe before the danger was fully understood. It spread more quickly than Ebola because Wuhan was not a small village in Africa, far from airports, which is where Ebola usually starts. The long incubation period and so many asymptomatic cases also contributed to the rapid and far spread of the virus as carriers may be shedding virus for days before they show a fever or other symptoms.
Simply put, the containment tactics that worked for Ebola and SARS were insufficient for the Wuhan Flu, and it spread across Europe and into the United States before anyone could stop it. In fact, it spread before we even knew it was necessary to stop it.
Today, with millions of diagnosed cases and tens of millions of undiagnosed asymptomatic carriers, there is no way we can defeat COVID-19. We are going to have to learn to live with it. That doesn’t mean we concede defeat, or roll over, but neither can we let it destroy our economy and our society.
How do we Live with COVID-19?
The first step is acceptance. We need to accept that COVID-19 is going to spread, people are going to get sick, and some will die. We have fought a valiant battle to slow the spread and prepare our front line workers. We’ve studied the virus and learned about it. We’ve found better ways to treat patients and have experimental drugs and therapies. Just like we fight cancer, heart disease and other terminal illnesses, we need to be prepared to fight COVID-19, but just like those diseases, we need to understand that sometimes the battle will be lost.
The second step is to take some common sense precautions such as promoting social distancing and prohibiting large, densely packed gatherings of people. This means we continue to ban concerts, hold sporting events with no fans in sports arenas, keep movie theaters closed, and prohibit private parties larger than 50. Workplaces need to be reconfigured to minimize transmission and we need to allow and encourage working from home for people who are able to do so. Social distancing and masks are a tactic and a tool to fight coronavirus, but they are not enough to win. A vaccine is needed and that is a long way off.
The third step is to put measures in place to protect our elderly and vulnerable populations. Improve infection control at nursing homes and continuing care facilities. Limit visits and test those who visit as well as workers. Retirement communities that serve meals in cafeterias and restaurants need to continue to offer boxed meals and meal delivery rather than gathering large numbers of residents in one area. Continue hand washing, disinfecting surfaces and business, and extend senior shopping hours.
The final step is to let people be responsible for their own health decisions. Educate them, but let them make choices for themselves and their children. If people want to stay home, let them stay home. if parents are comfortable letting their kids go to school, reopen the schools. If people want to work, or party, or go to the beach, or eat in restaurants, don’t stand in their way.
Maybe we’ll see a sudden uptick of illnesses among the young and healthy, but we know enough now to realize that almost all should make full recoveries. Will it be sad when people make bade decisions or have bad luck die? Yes, but consider that some made their choices because they preferred to face death free than live in a cage, something those who were raised in a cage will probably never understand.
It is this final step that the politicians and socialists will rally against most strongly. They want to protect us from ourselves, but that’s not the job of government. As Ron Paul said: “The moral and constitutional obligations of our representatives in Washington are to protect our liberty, not coddle the world, precipitating no-win wars, while bringing bankruptcy and economic turmoil to our people.”
Until there’s a safe, effective vaccine, fighting COVID-19 is a no win war if there ever was one.