Lockdowns Should Not Come With Economic Catastrophe

America is the richest country in the world—we shouldn’t be the cheapest when it comes to the livelihood of the American people.

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Most of America should not be open right now. The U.S. has just broken its own record for reported cases of COVID-19 in one day, and 36 states have positivity rates of over five percent. Despite this situation, states are not imposing the stringent lockdowns that are often necessary to control the pandemic. This virus will not vanish into thin air. America requires swift and persistent action and a proactive leadership. If we don’t act now, tens of thousands of Americans will join the 240,000 we have already lost.

Lockdowns are best when they are brief but strict. They can buy valuable time for hospitals and health care workers to prepare for a possible increase in infections and reduce case numbers. When the pandemic is spiraling out of control, shutting down hair salons, workplaces, schools, gyms, or any other nonessential public spaces can give the government the time and the tools they need to get a handle on the situation.

Lockdowns have even proved effective here in America. While New York’s response to COVID-19 was flawed, it was largely successful in curbing the virus. Since an initial onslaught of cases in the spring, New York has kept its case numbers and positivity rate relatively low. Nearly everything was closed for a few months, and cases in the state dipped to a manageable level. New York’s response should not be copied in full, but lockdowns similar to it should be the standard for the rest of the nation.

While they are effective in combating COVID-19, these lockdowns are terrible for the economy. Sixty percent of business closures due to the pandemic are now permanent, and unemployment still hovers around seven percent. With the fate of a second stimulus bill uncertain, proposing lockdowns in many states seems irresponsible. This recession could turn into a depression, and millions of Americans will be out of work and in poverty. This sole narrative has dominated President Trump’s response to COVID-19. He has claimed that the country must reopen, even if people die. An effective response to the pandemic needs to be a balancing act of saving lives and mitigating the economic fallout, but those two things seem impossible to do at once.

In reality, we don’t have to choose between public health and the economy. People can still stay home and be employed while businesses are closed; it’s just incredibly expensive. Countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands have instituted programs that pay between 75 to 90 percent of workers’ wages as long as they are not laid off and help cover business expenses like rent. These programs are not cheap, (Denmark may spend up to 13 percent of their gross domestic product on theirs) but they provide security when people need it most.

An American version of these programs does not have to be on the same scale. Wages should only be paid in areas that are locked down, and when reopening comes, the government should give businesses stipends to cover the cost of reconfiguring their spaces to follow social distancing guidelines. Once the region is open again, there can be more infrequent supplemental payments to make up for a dip in customers. This would help keep workers afloat and prevent towns from being permanently altered by empty storefronts.

Measures like paying wages and covering rent for small businesses are expensive but temporary, while a recession and unemployment can drag on for years and leave the country permanently changed. The U.S. could easily adopt a similar program. The necessary increase in the deficit should not be the reason thousands of Americans die and millions of Americans lose their jobs. At the end of the day, regular people do not feel the effects of the deficit. We should pay off our debts as a nation in the long run, but it would be irresponsible to worry about government spending during a pandemic. We have the power to prevent economic catastrophe and thousands of deaths, but we are currently choosing not to.

Ultimately, we have been offered a false choice by our leaders. We do not have to choose between stringent lockdowns and the economy. We know that short and strict lockdowns can decimate COVID-19, and we know that countries can spend money to make sure that people and businesses aren’t left to drown. The modern American legacy cannot be one of a botched pandemic response and a hands-off approach to economic recovery. Americans deserve safety and security in these times. We need to be devoted to stomping out COVID-19 and keeping the economy alive, no matter the cost.