One of North Carolina’s newest Members of Congress has offered up his two cents on the current crisis and how to find our way out:
Periods of adversity have been a hallmark of human existence. Wars, natural disasters, and past pandemics have shown that our lifetimes are rarely without challenge. Yet it is in those challenges that we define our humanity. Such is the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many unpredictable variables, these uncharted waters are being navigated literally hour by hour. A true damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario for our leaders.
How do we respond to this threat? At present, we are trying to mitigate the effects of this contagion on billions of people while at the same time trying to prevent a self-induced global economic collapse. In the United States, we have partially shuttered the greatest economy in the world.
In Congress, we have now passed three specific pieces of legislation purposed to fight the effects of COVID-19 on this nation, the last of which, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, was meant to stabilize the economy while we ride out this crisis. The CARES Act is not a stimulus package but rather a stabilization measure designed to keep businesses financially viable so that, when we do get through this crisis, and we will, we have an intact structure to restart the economy.
This leaves the most difficult questions. At what point do we take our foot off the brake and let the economy come back?What does the other side of the curve look like? Poverty, as a social determinant, is known to be a leading cause of death. Many are not seeking routine medical care they should be. As we push in one side of the balloon, the other side bulges, which may lead to an increase in deaths due to untreated mental health disorders, nascent cancers, and heart disease.
We have now worked to flatten the curve not only to save lives but also to buy time for our hospitals to gather resources. So, what should the future look like? Here’s a medical analogy: For decades, doctors have used chemotherapy, a poison that kills bad cells and good cells, to cure cancer. It does a great deal of collateral damage to save lives, and, until recently, it was our only tool. But now we have wonderful “targeted” therapies that eliminate cancer cells and leave the good ones alone. That is what the other side of the curve needs to look like — targeted intervention.
Until we get a vaccine, documented therapies, and the ability to conduct surveillance testing, high-risk groups — those over 65 and those with other underlying medical conditions — should continue to shelter in place. But we ought judiciously to allow businesses to reopen, making sure that the rest of the public continues not to shake hands, socially distance, and wear masks.
Beauty parlors could operate with every other chair in use. Restaurants could have every other table available for seating and limit groups to four people. This would not be a return to normalcy, but it might be enough to help cash-deprived businesses stay afloat, striking the balance between protecting the most vulnerable and keeping the economy viable. We simply cannot do what we are doing right now for another three to six months.
Regardless of what decisions are made, there will be those who question them. Mistakes have been made, and we will probably make more. But they have been made by Republicans, Democrats, scientists, and all manner of experts. The way we respond as a nation to this crisis is how we define our humanity. We face a challenge unlike any we have faced in modern times. It’s time for leaders to come together, put down the partisan politics, and begin to chart a path forward.