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The great lock down has helped to slow the spread of Covid-19. But it also came at a great cost to the global economy. Unlike a recession, many nonessential businesses have been closed with no clear timetable to reopen. The initial jobless claims in the US have swelled to more than 26 million since mid-March. While we see some glimmers of hope, we are not out of the woods yet. Businesses are anxious to reopen but we are also concerned with the health risks associated with it. The dilemma is if we reopen too quickly, we might risk triggering a second wave of Coronavirus which could be even worse.
For everyone to feel safe about reopening the economy, what we really need is one or more vaccines that are safe and broadly available. Scientists around the world are working frantically to find a cure to fight the Coronavirus. This is probably not going to happen for at least another nine months. The debate is raging over how long the U.S. economy should stay closed to contain Covid-19. On one side, we have the business community and workers who lost their jobs; on the other side, we have the healthcare workers with the highest risk of getting infected by Covid-19.
For many of the healthcare workers working in the front line fighting against Coronavirus to save lives, they will probably echo the same sentiment expressed by a counter protester against premature reopening below.
“They just think it’s a free-for-all, and I’m going in for $16.50 an hour, risking my life,” said Kelly Lepage, an emergency room tech who graduates nursing school in just a couple weeks. “They’re not bringing bodies to trailers,” Lepage said. “They’re not taking care of these people that can’t touch their families’ hands. They’re not there. They don’t see what we see. It’s very hard. I really wish they understood that we are trying our best to keep America safe.”
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, less than one third of the American workforce has the luxury of working from home. With the rest of the Americans, they either lost their jobs due to the lock down or employed in “essential services” with higher risk of exposing themselves to the virus. The infographic from Visualcapitalist below shows the COVID-19 risk for the different occupations using data from the Occupational Information Network. The score for each occupation is based on contact with others, physical proximity to others and exposure to hazardous conditions.
As we can see from the infographic above, healthcare workers tend to have higher risks and this is consistent with real world data support. In a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it found that out of the 138 patients, 57 (41.3%) were presumed to have been infected in Zhongnan Hospital (located in Wuhan, China) including 17 patients (12.3%) who were already hospitalized for other reasons and 40 health care workers (29%). Download the report.
In addition to the higher risk, just think about having to wear a face mask, stuck in protective gear all day long and working long hours, it is understandable that they are concerned with the premature reopening of the economy.
It’s not true that the only way to improve public health is by shutting down the economy and the only way to improve the economy is by sacrificing public health. Except for countries like Singapore and Taiwan, many countries have been playing catch up on Covid-19. Singapore and Taiwan have proven to the world that they can improve the economy without sacrificing public health. How did they do it? They wear face masks and practice social distancing religiously.
Protect Yourself and Protect Others
Policymakers have been stressing the need for large-scale “testing and tracing” to successfully reopen, and how hard it will be to implement these practices at scale anytime soon. What they overlooked is whether the public has enough personal protective gear to protect themselves from the Covid-19 virus.
Face masks likely “played an active role in slowing down the disease transmission in Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. It is an important component of containing the Covid-19 outbreak, and as a responsible citizen and a signal of support to health-care workers. Even CDC has reversed itself and is now recommending the use of cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of Covid-19. Wearing a mask is not just for protecting people from getting infected, but also prevent people with Covid-19 from infecting others.
Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe
Until we find a vaccine, we still need to continue some physical distancing between individuals for the foreseeable future. Businesses that need in person attendance should have clear guidelines for their employees on how to maintain social distancing at work. In addition, employers should be required to provide protective gears to all employees coming to work in person e.g. two face masks per employee everyday.
Social distancing inside a restaurant in Singapore. Source: The Straits Times
For businesses such as restaurants, if they reopen, they will have to follow the same social distancing guidelines not just for their employees but for their customers too. Restaurants will have to reduce their capacity to meet the social distancing requirement to protect the diners. As a result, their cost of doing business will be higher. Even if customers are coming back, many companies might not be able to afford to keep the business running at a loss for too long.
Only The Paranoid Survive
Places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have much higher population density than the US. And yet they have proven that they can protect the people and protect the economy at the same time. In addition to wearing face mask and practicing social distancing, they prohibit big crowd gathering. They closed down entertainment venues such as bars, karaoke lounges, cinemas and gyms.
Huntington Beach, Orange County, California. Source: CNN
Given that the situation of Covid-19 infection remains severe, it is particularly worrisome to see how some cities have reopened some of the beaches to the public. See picture above. People does not seem to be particularly concerned with the danger of Covid-19 in a large crowd environment.
Why people in Asia and US behave so differently when it comes to Covid-19? People in Asia are paranoid with Covid-19. They still have memories of the SARS epidemic. As a result, they are more alert. This is what we need in the US. We need to be fearful of the Covid-19 instead of taking it lightly.
featured image source: cnn