As a result of our collective response to the coronavirus and government-mandated shutdowns, we’ve watched our favorite businesses and restaurants close doors over the past two months—many of them for good. We’ve watched our friends and neighbors lose everything. We’ve watched our communities crumble outside our living room windows while government bureaucrats tell us, “listen to us, we know best.”
When the federal, state and local governments asked Americans to socially distance and take other measures to “flatten the curve” in order to not overwhelm our medical supply chain and infrastructure, Americans largely rose to the challenge. We were presented a reasonable short-term goal, with time to prepare, and we embraced it to “socially distance,” pause and save lives.
But governments at all levels have taken it too far with prolonged, widespread shutdowns that are putting the very fabric of our nation at risk. The truth is that if we don’t reopen society soon, the consequences will be more widespread and longer-lasting than the direct effects of coronavirus itself. Government action is not only directly responsible, but it is psychologically destroying one of the most important elements of our societal well-being: confidence.
At a macro level, over 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the past seven weeks. We’ve lost more jobs in just that time than we created in the recovery from the Great Recession that began in 2010. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates 20 million more will be unemployed by the end of the fiscal year’s second quarter, culminating in a staggering 32.1 percent unemployment rate. Recovering from such losses will be a herculean effort, and it gets more difficult by the day.
But beyond “just” the jobs and economic impact, social scientists and public health experts have failed to consider second- and third-order impacts of 30 to 50 million Americans losing their jobs. Taking people’s livelihood and isolating them does more than negatively impact their bottom line. It impacts their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Already, Americans are saying the coronavirus outbreak is negatively impacting their health. Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults report that worry or stress related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them to experience at least one negative effect on their mental health and well-being, like trouble sleeping or eating, increased alcohol use or worsening chronic conditions.
How many have developed, or will develop, mental health or substance abuse problems? We know that the unemployed are more than twice as likely to struggle with addiction. Studies have found a one percent increase in the unemployment rate could mean a three percent rise in opioid overdose deaths and a more than six percent rise in emergency room visits. In April, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration mental health hotline reported over a 1000 percent increase in calls. The Great Recession led to a 20 percent increase in the relative risk of suicide, so a 10 percent spike in unemployment could mean some 30,000 additional suicides.
How many are forgoing medical treatment? Nearly 23.4 million Americans have had cancer. If one percent of that population has had to forgo treatments due to “non-essential” designations, that could be devastating. Annually, routine screenings to catch the disease are being missed: hundreds of thousands of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer detections alike.
What about child abuse or neglect? What about crime rates? There are many impacts we aren’t considering that stem from either the government’s direct orders to lock us down at homes or the fears that the constant rhetoric is perpetuating.
None of this so far even addresses the assault on our cherished civil liberties. We’ve seen police officers chastise a parent for allowing her child to play. We’ve seen people denied the fruits of their labor—notably, Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther received a week-long jail sentence and a fine for seeking to care for her children and providing jobs to her (willing) contract workers. We’ve seen lots of concerning ideas about how to “track” everyone.
And all of this is being done in the name of protecting health when we know that models used to project the impact of the virus were flawed, that upwards of half of deaths are occurring in nursing homes or assisted living centers, that we are still months or years from a vaccine or advanced treatments and that the broader, extended lockdown strategy has not proven to be statistically effective.
The only way to ensure the health and well-being of American society is to let people get on with their lives—while government gets out of the way and focuses narrowly on protecting the elderly and vulnerable. People are self-interested beings; we want to survive. Let’s work together to protect each other while we live. Let’s do the one thing that will genuinely make a difference.
Let America open.