Trump’s Comments about Reopening Economy Spark Necessary Conversation

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White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen/Wikimedia Commons

President Trump speaks in front of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Ryan Peters, Editor

Ryan Peters, Editor

The coronavirus outbreak is, to put it simply, a lose-lose situation. 

When I say “lose-lose,” I mean lose-lose for almost any way you look at it. I can’t imagine anyone is happy that the world is facing a pandemic that has essentially brought everything to a grinding halt. The only silver lining, I guess, is that we will all have a greater appreciation for our normal lives when we’re not trapped in our homes. 

President Trump sparked a firestorm on Monday night when he brought up the idea of trying to reopen the economy and relax the federal self-isolation guidelines after the 15-day “slow the spread” period. The next morning, he faced severe backlash accusing him of valuing the stock market over people’s lives. 

While there is certainly validity to the argument against Trump’s comment, there is one major flaw in it: he simply proposed the idea and did not say that it’s what is going to happen. 

Even if Trump decides to relax the federal self-isolation guidelines, instead of everyone jumping to the conclusion that everyone is immediately going to return to work and all of the elderly and immunocompromised are going to die, it should be made clear that there is a slew of potential methods for shifting from “horizontal interdiction” – instituting preventive measures over a population regardless of risk of catching the disease – to “vertical interdiction” – applying containment guidelines based on groups’ risks of infection. Horizontal and vertical interdiction are terms that Dr. David L. Katz, a specialist in preventive medicine and public health, used in a column in the New York Times on Friday.

The conversation about how people’s livelihoods can begin to be saved while still protecting the most vulnerable from infection needs to happen. ”

Potential plans for vertical interdiction at the federal level could range from bringing people back to work based on age group and health to bringing people back to work based on geographic location to letting the states decide when everyone should return to work.

I’m not saying that the economy needs to be fully reopened immediately after the end of the federal self-isolation period. Preventing the spread of infections and deaths needs to continue to be the top priority for this country. However, the conversation about how people’s livelihoods can begin to be saved while still protecting the most vulnerable from infection needs to happen. And before anyone starts accusing people who support reopening the economy of manslaughter, we need to recognize that this is a lose-lose situation; one that has lives on the line in both scenarios. 

I can’t speak for President Trump, but the optimist in me wants to believe that his proposal is not only about the stock market and is instead about the people whose lives have been turned upside down due to COVID-19. The focus needs to be on the small business owners who stand idly by while their businesses are forced to close down, the employees in the service industry who make a living off of tips, or the one million people who are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the month. 

What Trump did make clear is that he intends to evaluate when to reopen the economy on a weekly basis rather than a monthly basis. This is the perspective we should want our president to have. Obviously, this does not mean that our economy needs to reopen on Monday. We need to have more expansive testing and a larger set of data to better understand who has the virus and how bad the spread will actually get before the government can evaluate this. However, it starts the necessary conversation of how we can look out for the well-being of the vast majority of people who won’t die from the virus while still isolating and protecting those who are most vulnerable. 

While reopening the economy will not help “flatten the curve,” it will hopefully provide the majority of the population with desperately needed economic relief. It needs to happen at some point because our country can’t function in an economic shutdown forever. This conversation can be had without implying that we forget about the millions of people who are at serious risk of life-threatening infection. The whole point of the conversation is to determine how we can balance protecting the vulnerable and the healthy or asymptomatic.

The tragic irony in all of this is that while this debate begins, our wonderful, selfless, thoughtful Congress members are delaying the passage of the federal stimulus package as both parties try to push their political agendas across. 

The Senate Democrats claim that the Republicans put together a package that will allow businesses to abuse the money, while the Senate Republicans are accusing the Democrats of trying to jam in provisions that have nothing to do with the pandemic. While both parties are busy casting the other side as the villain, the crisis only worsens. 

This petty bickering in the Senate is an embarrassment to our government and an insult to the citizens. There’s a whole lot of lip service by the senators about how this package needs to be passed, but that means nothing until it is actually passed. 

So rather than hopelessly waiting for our nation’s political leaders to solve this crisis or complaining about how they confront it, we need to do what we think is right and control what we can control. We need to trust that if the guidelines are lifted, people will still exercise the common sense not to hug their elderly parents or grandparents, continue to wash their hands often, avoid touching their faces, and practice social distancing. 

We can hope that the government can ease the pain, but we can’t expect it; besides, easing the pain is all that we can do at this point. But it’s up to each of us to do what we think is right and look out for the common good.