The dystopian future has arrived. The stories 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and The Hunger Games seemed far fetched a few months ago. Presently we are living in a time where people are forced to stay indoors and businesses are ordered closed. People are scolded for going out or gathering in large numbers.
In America and other wealthy nations, the people are being told that the government may provide a portion of our lost income. Small businesses are being told they might be able to receive loans that will enable them to spread the loss over several years while struggling to remain in business. Large businesses are attempting to convince congress and the American people that their sector needs to receive bailouts.
Although at this time many who worked at bars and restaurants, tourism, transportation have no income. Many bars are completely closed and restaurants do not need a full wait staff to provide take out orders. This means the people who work there will have no income until these businesses are allowed to reopen.
In other countries especially ones dependent on tourism they are looking to just survive the coming months. There are no government payouts to help them through the shutdown of air travel. Many will have no income until the flights are allowed again.
It seemed that the response to Covid-19 reached a tipping point in early March. The National Basketball Association suspended their season and the SXSW music festival was canceled. This led to a domino effect with many other events being cancelled. It also galvanized in people’s heads that what we faced was ‘unprecedented.’
Travel has been curtailed. Flights to and from many foriegn countries are suspended until May. Schools have been closed by order of the government and may return as online learning in a few weeks with kids staying home.
The reaction to the virus has led to a new vocabulary. Social distancing, self quarantine, and flattening the curve have been added to the lexicon. Businesses are being seperated into essential and nonessential businesses.
The world does not resemble what it was a few weeks ago. It has irrevocably been changed by a virus that may not be that much different than ones in the recent past, but the response has been very different. Is this the new standard for response to a ‘novel’ virus? In the past few years we have had SARS and H1N1.
It is necessary to insure that the response is proportional to the most likely scenario. If the economy is destroyed how will we respond to the next disaster? The data needs to be transparently provided within the context of past pandemics without sensationalism. Scientists should provide perspective on the data. This data should then be used to make informed decisions by leaders. At the point that scientists are asked to make decisions they lose their impartiality.
It is often said that you cannot be too safe, but safety comes with a cost. If a drug is slightly better at treating the flu, but costs hundreds of times more, is it worth the cost? This cost benefit analysis is made many times in regards to safety. What is the right number of police officers, soldiers, and paramedics?
It is necessary to find the right balance in the response to danger. It is good to be prepared, but over preparing means you are spending large amounts for little gain. A shutdown of the economy is not cheap and should not be undertaken lightly. The goal is to identify areas where small changes result in large effects. There are limited resources and it is necessary to use these resources wisely.