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Health vs. economy when it comes to COVID-19

Over the last few weeks there has more discussion about “opening” the economy and trying to increase economic output. But what are the chances of a re-open being successful while tens of thousands of Americans have died (with more likely than not hundreds of thousands more on track to die) from COVID-19? Not to mention, in addition to those deaths, hundreds of thousands of additional Americans will get very sick from COVID-19 and they will need to be hospitalized. Can the economy really can be opened and things go back to anything “close to normal” (or even a “new-normal”) as bodies pile up in morgues and while hospitals are full of the sick?

Deaths and COVID-19 hospitalizations

The fact is that the number of Coronavirus cases have flattened in the US – they have not decreased. COVID-19 cases have not declined in the US like they have in many other countries such as Europe, ‘developed” Asia, etc. Just take a look at the data here. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases.

Now there is the very valid point that maybe the number of diagnosed cases could be plateauing in the US and not going down as there is more Coronavirus testing occuring, but there are two counter arguments to that.

  • One is that same logic of more testing is true for Europe as well; they have more testing as well but their cases have gone down. (Remember the US also has more testing but cases have not gone down.)
  • Point two is the number of people who are hospitalized (not just dying) has continued to trend up. That has nothing to do with the increased testing levels; more people in the hospital means more people are getting COVID-19 and more people will die. Hospitalizations may be the best measurement to use to measure the spread of the disease as it levels out the lack of historical COVID-19 testing.

What does all this mean? First of all, keep in mind it is complicated and there are no easy answers. That being said, the fact is that as we “re-open” the economy, we are re-opening off a higher base of COVID-19 cases as the spread never slowed (as the US saw no decline). This means the number of sick people, the number who go to the hospital every day, and daily COVID-19 deaths more than likely will not decline as we re-open the economy unless there is strict and enforced hygiene/social distancing/mask/tracking requirements.

More than likely the spread, deaths and hospitalizations will go up from here if there is no enforcement around enforcing health requirement. This is all data driven and is not an opinion – Americans on the whole clearly have not been doing what is required over the last ~30 days as shown by the numbers (which do not lie).

Will the American economy be able to go back to anything close to normal if say 1000 to 1500 people die each day, which is 350,000 to 500,000 per year? (which is ~10 times more death than flu). Not to mention, in addition to those deaths, hundreds of thousands more will be seriously sick and need to go to the hospital. Can economic activity increase with that happening?

False choice of economy vs health?

We see Americans now protesting about the quarantines as they want things get back to normal. They want to go to recreational activities, or other Americans want to got back to work so they can make a living as tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs. We get that and agree. It is horrific what is happening economically in this country…the loss of tens of millions of jobs, people losing their health insurance, millions waiting in long lines for food banks, millions of families who can’t pay their bills, people that have lost businesses that they put their blood, sweat, and tears into, etc.

But is it a false choice? Can you really open the economy when hundreds of thousands of people are dying and hundreds of thousands are getting very sick? Can you reopen the economy when some of those more caring and considerate Americans who care about others (and themselves) are scared to go out into the economy as they do not want to get contribute to spreading COVID-19 to their loved ones (or mention themselves). Can economic activity improve while hundreds of thousands die?

I think what is so sadly ironic is that it seems like many of those people that protest, a fair number of those protesters (maybe most of them?) are not even wearing a mask. Or they are protesting without leaving even a little bit of social distance between fellow protesters. Or the people who go to few parks or other events are not wearing masks. Or people protest states or municipalities or stores that try to enforce people to wear masks.

The best thing these protesters (and anyone) could do if they really want economic activity to pick up is wear a mask, keep space, and take care of hygiene. It is basic stuff. Those actions will help contain the virus, keep it from spreading, and make people feel safer. As if people do not feel safe from COVID-infections because of those too many Americans that are careless, thoughtless and self-absorbed (who can’t even do those simple things) will the economy get anything close to normal?

I think anyone who refuses to wear a mask, they should sign a waiver saying if they get COVID-19 they give up the right to medical care…as by refusing to do something as simple as a mask they also put nurses, doctors, first responders at risk if they get sick. I love the quote from the Stillwater Oklahoma mayor talking about how self-absorbed Americans are.

The City of Stillwater has attempted to keep people safe by the simple requirement to wear a face covering to protect others. It is unfortunate and distressing that those who refuse and threaten violence are so self-absorbed as to not follow what is a simple show of respect and kindness to others.

Other countries health vs. economy

Back in late January I was preparing for the Coronavirus; I ordered a bunch of masks in anticipation of them being sold out, made some investment changes, etc. At that time I strongly suspected the Coronavirus would hit the US as well and I wanted to limit my financial and personal health risk. Of course COVID-19 did end up coming to the US. What I was wrong about was that I could never have imagined how poorly America was prepared for the outbreak and how poor we responded to the challenge. I never imagined the poor response/reaction of both the government as well as all too many individual Americans and their lack of ability or willingness to take small steps for the greater good. I should have known better though and lesson learned!

Look at America compared to other countries. Most countries in Asia have mask requirement, tons of COVID-19 testing, apps to track and inform people of spread or contact tracing, mandatory monitored quarantines for those possible exposed, etc. While of course their economies are not full strength either (and just like our won’t be until vaccine or herd immunity), those countries have much less deaths per capita as well as more economic activity than US. They have less deaths and more economic activity because they did and continue to tackle that health aspects of COVID-19, which helps people feel more secure and safe which leads to more economic activity.

Health equals less deaths/hospitalizations equals less fear equals more economic activity

All too many Americans seem to be unable to make a small sacrifice or to even be considerate or respectful of others by doing simple things – they can’t even wear a mask or refuse to use technology to help. They can’t leave a little physical distance or be considerate of others. If people really want the economy to be open and for economic damage to be limited, do the basics….masks, social distance, hygiene, etc. Create an environment in which people feel safe. And the fact is, if that was occurring the US COVID-19 data would have reflected that by now – as math does not lie.

We think if people want make a living, the health aspect of COVID-19 needs to be addressed, as most people will not go back to anything close to normal if they fear getting very sick, going to the hospital, or even dying. It all starts with health.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

3 thoughts on “Health vs. economy when it comes to COVID-19

  • May 6, 2020 at 10:39 pm

    Some of these folks are demanding a HAIR BLOW OUT open, so that they can get their hair blown… pretty tough to practice social distancing during a blow out when germs can blow all over and around masks. So now the stylist has to risk THEIR help for someone who just needs to get out for vanity sake? Is touching up your grey roots or a blow out worth someone else’s life? My stylist is going to get a tip equal to all the cuts she missed giving me during all this, but as I see the people in the market now who REFUSE to wear a mask as a common courtesy, what protections are these arrogant customers going to show their stylist?
    A woman I know is in sports massage therapy, she was telling me that people who believed they might have the bug were telling her this WHILE THEY WERE ON HER TABLE; where is the consideration for others? Selfish people like this are the reason we had to go into this OVERLY STRICT lockdown in the first place.

  • May 7, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    The damage from stopping economic life is not commensurate with the benefits of restrictions, critics of the lockdown say, citing, among other things, evidence that the number of suicides is increasing during the recession. It is also obvious that the generation entering the labor market now will face lower chances of finding a job than during the period of economic growth. And although in March the labor market in Germany still did not feel the consequences of the epidemic, and the number of unemployed even continued to decline, already in April experts expect that at least 200 thousand people (in Germany) will lose their jobs.

  • May 10, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    The end game is to protect lives. Swine flu and “regular” flu had a fatality rate of 0.02% and we don’t have strong numbers on COVID-19 but it’s much higher, even if 1% it would be far deadlier compared to the flu and 1% would kill 3.5 million people. It’s also more contagious compared to the flu. If we did nothing in the long run it would kill off good chunks of the population which will ruin the economy either way.


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