COVID-19 Catch-22

Last updated on May 29th, 2020 at 11:42 am

Catch-22, a term that originated from the 1961 novel by Joseph Heller, refers to a dilemma from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. That’s one way to look at the public health and economic fight against COVID-19.

The devastating impact of this pandemic is clear. As I write this there are 2.6 million confirmed cases globally, resulting in more than 184,000 deaths. In the United States there are more than 855,000 confirmed cases and more than 50,000 deaths. In Wisconsin, 4,845 cases and 246 deaths.

Although some drugs have shown promise, there is no clinically proven cure. Vaccines are still under development and likely at least a year away from being available.

The only way we can fight COVID-19, which is extremely contagious, is through social distancing. Without shelter-in-place measures, including Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, the COVID-19 spread would be much worse.

Efforts to “flatten the curve” have been successful, giving nurses and doctors, who are risking their lives to treat COVID-19 patients, a fighting chance against the virus.

However, mandated social distancing has had a devastating effect on the economy, shutting most of it down and plunging us into a recession, and maybe a depression. Job losses are mounting and many businesses have closed, unsure if they will recover.

Economists at UW-Madison estimated the state’s unemployment rate was at 16.7% as of April 16. The high during the Great Recession was 9.3%.

Every day the economic damage from shelter-in-place orders like Safer at Home grows. Understandably, many are growing restless. People who have lost their jobs, or had their pay cut are worried about paying their bills and supporting their families. Business owners fret about the employees who depend on them and wonder if they will lose everything they’ve worked for.

Evers’ decision to extend Safer at Home to May 26 caused much angst. Some are demanding the state’s economy be reopened, now.

We all want the economy reopened as soon as possible, but doing so too soon would be a big mistake. That could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases, which would then result in another shutdown and we will be right back where we started.

It makes no sense to resume business as normal if employees and customers are concerned for their safety.

At the same time, social distancing is not a sustainable strategy. We can’t keep doing this for another 12 to 18 months until a vaccine is available. When the time is right, we’re going to have to figure out a new normal to do business in a modified fashion until then.

Evers recently laid out a phased reopening plan, based on guidelines recommended by President Donald Trump. Hopefully we progress through the steps of the plan in a reasonable amount of time and get our economy back on track as soon, and as safely, as possible.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.

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