Why common sense should guide decision to reopen our economies

coronaPublic health care officials find themselves face with a conundrum that their training, ironically enough, does not provide them with real guidance.

I refer, of course, to the issue of how to exit the lockdown of our economies.

As anyone who has been following the umpteen news conferences can see, there is considerable reluctance on the part of the public health officials to reopen economies for fear of driving a second wave of infections.

The fear stems from a lack of data. The data that we do have suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus is easily transmitted and particularly deadly. But we do not know with certainty that is the case. Our estimation of the virus’ ability to kill is based on limited data.

What the public health officials who are setting policy do not know is just how widespread is the infection.

It’s an important number because it determines the mortality caused by the virus. If the virus is widespread, then the death rate approaches that of the seasonal flu.

That, in turn, would support opening the economies.

If it is not widespread, then that finding would support keeping our economies shut down.

Now, a recent study out of California suggests it is the former and that many people have contracted the illness without even knowing it.

All of which would suggest re-opening would not have much impact on public health.

What I find ironic is the fact that public health officials were so reluctant to take decisive action when news of the viral outbreak became public. Not one ever suggested quarantining China. Not one. Nor did any of them advise shutting down air traffic to and from China. No one recommended isolation until it was clear person to person transmission was easier than originally thought.

The reason? They lacked data. China was not forthcoming. The World Health Organization was slow to react, did not push back on China and was reluctant to issue travel advisories.

Data, in other words, is no substitute for judgment. In management we are taught this is the paralysis of analysis.

Data, to be sure, informs judgment, but analysis can never substitute for judgment. Common sense dictated the immediate quarantining of China when faced with a novel viral threat.

Common sense now dictates that we must begin letting people return to work. We cannot wait until a vaccine is developed. That could take anywhere from 18 months to two years. The economic losses would be too great. We would be contending with Depression era joblessness.

This is not a profits versus lives argument as some are arguing. There are health costs associated with lockdowns. There are people now who are ill who are not getting treatments because officials are worried they lack resources to deal with everything at once.

What we need are widespread random testing to determine the extent of infection, sound therapies and better protocols to protect the most vulnerable – seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

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