“Hide” and “ignore” are poor COVID-19 strategies. Let’s invest instead.

I am frustrated with our national leaders who seem more interested in blaming each other than solving the coronavirus problem. It’s time to consider actual solutions and invest in them.

Start with this: the virus is not going away. It’s now expanding exponentially in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and southern California; ICU beds are filling up. Other parts of the country that haven’t locked down are likely to experience similar problems.

Worse, it now appears that long-term immunity is also in doubt. Cases are emerging where people have been infected twice. And one study suggests that antibody response attenuates over a period of weeks and months. While it’s early to be drawing conclusions, this creates serious doubts about any strategy that’s based on “herd immunity” or a vaccine.

In other words, we’re in this for the long haul. What are we going to do about it?

Two failed strategies: ignore or hide

The national strategy of the Trump administration and many Republican governors is to hope this thing goes away. Keep the economy open. Send kids back to school. Hope that a combination of heat, improved treatments, and keeping vulnerable people away from the broader world will result in things getting better. Or just get used to lots of people getting sick and dying. In other words, ignore.

Sorry, but I’m not on board with getting used hundreds of thousands of people dying.

The strategy of many Democrats is to hunker down. Shut things down as much as possible. Pay people to stay in place. Pause evictions and cancel rents and mortgages. Keep schools and colleges closed. In other words, hide.

As a strategy, hide is better than ignore because fewer people die. But we cannot hide forever. Hide is more of a tactic than a strategy.

What these strategies have in common is that they depend on hope. I’m not a big fan of hope — I believe you make your success. Waiting for things to get better while we hide may be better than waiting for things to get better while we die, but wouldn’t it be better to actually do something?

A better strategy: invest

There are millions of people now unemployed. The government has already shown it will spend a trillion dollars to try to solve the current crisis — all that did was to put the problems off for a while, while inviting people to apply for loans that many didn’t need, without much verification.

If we’re going to spend money, let’s spend it solving the actual problems we have. We are Americans: we are pretty good at applying our ingenuity to solve problems. Because this problem is so large and pervasive, only the federal government can make progress on solving it. (If you don’t believe me, look at how well we’re doing with states each making up their own strategies.) This requires a New Deal level of investment at the national level.

I can think of two things worth investing in right now:

  • Education. If you accept that the virus is here for the long term, we need a plan for how to run schools, colleges, and day-care in a world of virus risk. That means bigger schools, outdoor school settings (Rice University is building outdoor teaching bubbles), staggered school days or seasons including teaching weekends or summers, hybrid online/classroom teaching methods, new ways to feed students, training in safe protocols with masks and social distancing, and lots of other stuff. This will take money. But it will also create jobs. Teacher’s assistants and classroom aides. New curricula. Classroom equipment. New school buildings. If you recognize that the viral risk will be here for years, we need a solution that we can build in years. We are America — we can do this. And yes, I’d pay my tax dollars to help do it, because it will help the economy, create better educated citizens (learn science, children!), and allow two-income families to get back to work.
  • Health care. It is not a coincidence that all the nations where the virus has now receded have nationalized healthcare. With nationalized care, the testing can be standardized, there is no disincentive to go to the doctor, hospitals can optimize for the national problem, and disease trends are easier to track. (For Lord’s sake, in America, health providers’ anachronistic use of fax machines is slowing virus responses.). We can’t replicate Canada’s health care system here — at least not right away. But we can shore up the Affordable Care Act, require the Medicaid expansion in all states, mandate free treatment for all suspected cases of Coronavirus, support trials and expansion of treatments and testing, not just vaccines, and educate the public.

These are expensive, difficult, challenging problems to solve. But ignoring and hiding aren’t strategies — it’s time to invest in solutions that will help us solve current problems, put people back to work, and prepare us to better withstand the next crisis. I don’t want America to remain the largest nation that has no effective plan for a permanent pandemic.

Who will do this?

The Trump Administration’s policies depend on pretending the virus will go away. I doubt that Republicans are ready to go against that policy. So it seems unlikely the solution will come from Republicans.

Democrats and their presumptive 2020 nominee, Joe Biden, should go on record with plans for these solutions. They should pass them in the House right now and dare the Senate to do nothing. A plan like this would help Biden win the election and Democrats to gain a majority in the Senate, since Americans like people who solve problems. This can pass in January, even if it cannot pass now.

If we do this, America will never be the same. We will march toward a transformed educational system and national healthcare. But we cannot go back to where we were. This is a plan for moving forward. We were not the same after the New Deal or the War on Terror — and not everything that came from those strategies was positive — but at least we attempted to deal with our problems.

Ignoring the virus won’t help. Neither will hiding forever. We need a solution. If you don’t like mine, come up with a better one. But stop counting on hope, because hope is not a strategy.

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  1. Love this. Exactly what is needed. I’d add a National Climate Service a la the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) deployed during the Great Depression to put people to work and to train them in new skills. They could work to conserve and restore natural habitats; clean-up plastics and other waste that has made its way into natural habitats; and retrofit buildings and installed infrastructure to increase energy efficiency.

    1. Bob, that would be a great way to botch up any serious discussion and lose focus on what needs to be done.

      Rolling in things that have nothing to do with COVID-19, nor the consequences of it, is a distraction, and triggers politicization of this.

  2. I agree with your assessment that the strategies / discussions thus far have boiled down to ignore or hide.

    I’ve been preaching for a while that COVID-19 will be with us for years. Just mathematically works that way.

    Six plus months into it, we’ve just passed the point where 1% of our population are known to have been infected. We need 60%+ for Herd Immunity.

    It will be years, even if Herd Immunity proves to be possible.

    That is, unless we allow for a catastrophic amount of excess deaths (deaths that result from the medical system getting overwhelmed, both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19) – where we ALL then get to play Russian Roulette.

    This is where the media reporting on the “new records” every day is misleading. These are going to be with us for some time, yet, this approach seems to imply it is short term.

    The real news is in answering what can the medical system in my area handle, how close are we to that threshold, and are we building capacity to increase that threshold.

    I agree – Hope (for a vaccine or treatments that prevent death, hospitalization, or harsh symptoms) is not going to get us where we need.

    The “hide” tactic was only ever short term. It is really meant for us to prevent the medical system from becoming overwhelmed and buy time to bolster that (poorly prepared) system, while figuring out what COVID-19 really is, and strategies to live with it.

    We still need to do some of this (partial, selective shutdowns in narrow geographies) to keep below the threshold medical capacity in those areas, but few public figures are yet to acknowledge that this is a long-term issue, let alone what is to be done long term.

    Where I part ways is the specifics of the solution(s).

    I do agree that longer term solutions are more the nature of the discussion we all need to be having – NOW!

    But, can we get past the politics of it, and get to that reality?

  3. I loved the original post and the follow-up comments by Mr. Leonard and BM. I am a big fan of Keynesian economics, FDR’s New Deal, and President Obama’s domestic moves and opinions.

  4. We “print” money to support disastrous wars. The only thing stopping our country from supporting the funding of education and healthcare, at least in the short tun, is will. Unfortunately, our current leadership has taken the tack of dividing our national will, just when it needed to be united.

    I could wholeheartedly get behind a platform that tried to bring us together again by actually getting something done to solve the problem for the *whole* country, and not just the cronies of the party in charge.