By Clyde Henderson, MD
The impact to the US economy from COVID-19 can be summarized by the loss of 30+ million jobs, 10+ TRILLION dollars borrowed and spent by Congress, and hundreds of businesses, which may never come back.
The Coronavirus Taskforce put forth minimal guidelines recommended for states and regions to reopen their economies. The very next day the President implied that several states disregard those guidelines. Multiple states have decided that reopening of their economies takes precedence over the likely increase in loss of life and are therefore violating even these minimal guidelines. This week the future projected death toll from COVID-19 has already been increased from 68,000 up to 74,000, even before these states announced plans for reopening.
No one is advocating keeping the US economy shutdown any longer than necessary. Unfortunately, the mainstay of defense against this scourge is “social distancing,’’ meaning staying at home. While we await effective medications and/or a vaccine, we are best served by going on offense. An offensive approach consists of supplementing the social distancing with TESTING (accurate and rapid results), contact tracing (and testing), isolation of the known and suspected positives (and testing), and treatment of the infected.
Testing in the USA and Ohio remains woefully inadequate. A recent Harvard study places Ohio testing near the bottom 20% of states. Ohio is testing 20 people per 100,000 compared to a national average of 45 per 100,000. The Harvard group projects that Ohio needs 152 tests per 100,000 in order to safely reopen. Governor DeWine states that he expects that Ohio testing will improve from the current 4,000 tests per day, to 20,000 per day by mid-May. We believe that adequate testing and contact tracing needs to be in place before Ohio reopens.
As African Americans, we too have a huge stake in the responsible reopening of our economy both from a healthcare (life and death) standpoint as well as a financial standpoint. The two are not mutually exclusive. We account for 34% of the US deaths from COVID-19, although we represent only 13% of the population. African Americans bear a disparate burden of preexisting conditions of hypertension, diabetes, asthma, obesity and chronic medical problems. These preexisting conditions cause us to be in the “vulnerable population” which the Taskforce’s reopening guidelines recommends stay home until the later stages of economic reopening. Yet, so many of us are either essential workers, who have already been out there risking our personal wellbeing, or work in jobs, which will be the first called back.
Because our nation’s health insurance system is so intimately attached to employment, the loss of jobs means a loss of health insurance coverage. Essential workers, many of whom use public transportation to get to work, face the choice of life versus livelihood. There are physical and mental health, as well as economic issues, to be considered in the decision to return to work. The testing that would help to reassure people must be made available. Our federal government is best equipped to make the necessary testing available. We are screaming for the Defense Production Act to be used to produce enough gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, face shields and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for the general public to be better protected.
Although, there is enormous pressure and possibly less control over the decision to return to work, Americans are clearly not willing to return to the typical, more optional. tenets of American life. Again, this insecurity ties into the necessity of rapid result and accurate TESTING for COVID-19!
Americans are smart enough to know that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease, which does not have a cure nor vaccine currently, and testing is inadequate. A new NPR/Marist poll finds that, by large percentages, Americans believe that it is a bad idea to resume the following specific activities without further testing: 1) 91%- large sporting events 2) 80%- sit down meal in a restaurant 3) 85%- children return to school 4) 65%- return to work. Americans know that adequate testing is necessary before we return to even a new normal.
The individual decision to join the reopen is a difficult one. It has life and death ramifications. Protect yourself as you continue to protect others.
We need rapid result, accurate, and widespread testing to protect our health and boost our economy. There are levers in the federal governmental arsenal, which, if used, might lessen the anxiety about getting back to our “normal” activities.