Tag Archives: Quarantine

What should we do about the Wuhan coronavirus?

The economic cost of making workers stay home
The economic cost of making workers stay home

I think by now most people have realized that there is an economic cost to shutting Americans of all ages into their homes. If people can’t work, then businesses can’t make money, and they have to furlough or lay off workers. We can’t keep up this policy of making everyone stay home forever – it would lead to another Great Depression. Is there a way to get people back to work?

This article from The Federalist explains, and comes up with a different solution. The author argues that the Wuhan virus is most dangerous to the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions. And therefore they should shelter in place securely, while the rest of us who are under age 50 keep the economy from sliding into a depression by going back to work as soon as possible.

It says:

Richard Epstein at the Hoover Institution… points out that South Korean data, which is more complete than most other countries’ data, shows huge disparities in risks between old and unhealthy and young and healthy. “Clearly, the impact on elderly and immunocompromised individuals is severe, with nearly 90% of total deaths coming from individuals 60 and over. But these data do not call for shutting down all public and private facilities given the extraordinarily low rates of death in the population under 50,” Epstein writes.

[…]The costs Americans are being forced to bear may be more than is rational to impose. Already one-fifth of working Americans are being laid off and having work hours cut due to not even one week of suspensions.

“[T]he massive curtailments of the U.S. economy can have as many health consequences as the virus itself—if millions lose income and jobs, become depressed in self-isolation, increase smoking, and drug and alcohol use, and postpone out of fear necessary buying and visits to doctors and hospitals for chronic and serious medical conditions unrelated to the virus,” writes Victor Davis Hanson.

What if the real scenario is one of these: 1) We plunge the nation into a depression that kills many businesses and addicts millions to welfare, in a nation that has already pledged more welfare than it can afford for at least the next three generations. Because of this depression, many people die due to poverty, lack of medical care, and despair. Millions more transform from workers to takers, causing a faster implosion of our already mathematically impossible welfare state.

2) The nation quarantines only at-risk populations and those with symptoms, like South Korea has, and ensures targeted and temporary taxpayer support to those groups, goes nuts cranking out ventilators and other crisis equipment such as temporary hospitals using emergency response crews, while the rest of us keep calm, wash our hands, take extreme care with the at-risk groups, and carry on.

Why would the entire nation grind to a halt when the entire nation is not at a severe risk? I would rather have a flu I am 99.8 percent likely to survive than the nation plunged into chaos indefinitely because we pulled the plug on our economy during a stampede.

At the very least, Congress should wait a week or two, while half the nation or more is home, to see how the infection rates look as millions of test kits go out. The worst-case scenario they are predicating their actions on may not be the one we’re facing. Prudence suggests a measured, wait and see approach to policy until we have better information, not chucking trillions of my kids’ dollars out the window “just in case.”

Right now, I think we should expand testing so we understand the problem better, fast-track whatever drugs are known to work, expand hospital capacity, build more N95 masks, build more ventilators, and get people under 50 back to work. This is in addition to proper hand-washing, social distancing and working from home where possible.

The cost of a depression seems to me to be much higher than what is happening to South Korea right now. They have massive testing effort and they are only quarantining people who are at high risk or who show symptoms. That makes more sense to me than shutting the economy down, or pass massive spending bills with bailouts for businesses that should not be shut down more than a month.