Returning to Work Prematurely–Trump’s LaLaLand

Returning to work in two weeks will need careful planning. It not as simple as a Trumpian decree, or “hunch.” It will take careful consideration and planning and two weeks is likely way too early.

“David L. Katz of the Yale School of Medicine has a plan for when and how we should return to work. This plan has been championed by Tom Friedman and many other pundits. In essence, we should sustain the lockdown for a brief period to reduce the risk of overwhelming the health care system with severe COVID-19 cases. However, we would not stay in lockdown until the prevalence of the virus gets so low that people can congregate with minimal fear of transmission. That would cause too much economic harm. Katz argues, therefore, that only the young and healthy would return to work.* Some returned workers would become infected with the still-prevalent coronavirus. This is acceptable, on Katz’s view, because the young and healthy have only a small risk of dying from COVID-19. Conversely, the chronically ill and the elderly are at substantially higher mortality risk. Therefore, when the young and healthy return to work, we should make special provisions to protect the elderly and chronically ill. If we succeed in protecting the vulnerable from becoming infected, we will greatly reduce the morbidity and mortality of the disease. This would give us a better tradeoff, and allow us to return to work earlier and restart the economy faster at a lower cost in lives.”

Friedman quotes Katz as foreseeing only two more weeks of social distancing. Few epidemiologists regard that as sufficient. However, whether Katz is right about when to return to work is to some degree beside the point. The proposal to allow the less vulnerable young to return to work early while protecting the vulnerable is a superb idea. If it works.”

“It won’t work if the protections that we plan are ineffective or if we do not implement then in an adequate way. And if the protections fail while the virus is still prevalent, many elderly Americans will die.” (Emphasis Medicynic)

Medicynical note: as we learned in Vietnam and now in Afghanistan declaring victory prematurely without understanding the consequences leads to chaos and ultimately defeat. In Vietnam we needed helicopters to evacuate embassy staff. We are likely learning the same lesson in Afghanistan.

With the Covid-19 epidemic, prematurely abandoning the isolation strategy will expose the vulnerable in our society to life threatening risk for an indefinite time period. Two weeks to “victory” is likely way too early. But our President has the attention span of a gnat and lacks the intellectual capability to understand any data except the daily ups and downs of the DOW.

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