Ben Fields: The cure is not worse than the virus (Opinion)

Ben Fields

Ben Fields

Now is not a time for partisan divides. But this is America, and, even in the midst of a pandemic, even with key members of Congress coming down with the coronavirus, Washington, D.C., remains in its hermetically sealed bubble of squabbling and misinformation.

Something Americans should get used to hearing, generated by the isolated feedback loop of politics, is some variation of the phrase “the cure cannot be allowed to become worse than the disease.”

While there is no real “cure” for COVID-19 yet, the solution referred to in this line of thinking is what we’ve done so far — shuttering businesses, staying at home and limiting interactions to slow, and possibly stop, the virus. A vaccine is anywhere from a year to 18 months away, and drugs that might work are in the early clinical-trial phase.

An unavoidable side effect of patience and precaution is a slowing economy. We are spending money on what we need, if we can find it and afford it, and not much else. Even if we wanted to spend money on non-emergency items, there’s nowhere to do it. Even the online behemoths have been slowed by COVID-19. It takes people to pack those boxes and ship them out. The United States is, in essence, closed for business, beyond operations that provide essential goods and services. Businesses can’t flourish if they’re closed. Cruise lines can’t make any money with no one on the ship. The stock market can’t climb if there’s little economic activity.

Thus, the argument on the cure being worse than the disease goes, a recession or even a possible depression would be worse than sending everyone back out, letting the virus run its course and categorizing the resulting illnesses and deaths — on a scale that can’t be predicted — as acceptable losses.

Such cruelty and callousness could only come from the White House and some on Capitol Hill, the most dysfunctional and aloof locations in the country. Any reasoning along these lines must be soundly rejected before turning into a serious argument. It’s dangerous, and would only make this pandemic worse.

As frustrating as it might be to the economic elite, the country must continue to exercise caution until this virus is understood and dealt with in a responsible way. That means following public health guidelines and staying home. That means getting medical staff the equipment they need, and making sure all with symptoms have access to testing. That means making sure our poor, our unemployed and our incarcerated are protected. People of all political stripes have accurately stated that coronavirus has to be treated as a health issue first and an economic issue second.

That’s not to say the economic picture isn’t scary, or that it isn’t intertwined with the issue of the virus. But surely the United States can figure out a way to keep people afloat and keep them safe. This is, after all, an unprecedented national crisis, and it must be addressed nationally. The government has to have a plan to protect its people — and the economic packages that are being developed are a good start — while state and local governments do what they can, too.

Rushing back to have churches packed by Easter, as President Trump is suggesting, is a sure way to get Americans killed.

There is nothing more important to the country right now than the health of its people. Economies can recover. Lives lost to careless policy are gone forever.

Ben Fields is the Gazette-Mail opinion editor. Reach him at ben.fields@wvgazettemail.com or follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.