By Andrew Beeler
The job of policymakers in Lansing is to weigh the costs and benefits of one course of action over another and to choose the one which maximizes the welfare of the citizens of Michigan; however, the one-size-fits-all policies directed at benefiting the communities most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak are unintentionally damaging those less affected. A middle-ground solution of permitting counties to decide for themselves how to limit the spread would result in maximizing the public health and minimizing the damage to the economy.
It is the job of policymakers to perform the calculus of job accomplishment versus collateral damage, and that is the decision facing our policymakers in Lansing and Washington today. Thus far in the COVID-19 outbreak, our state has chosen the option of unilaterally shutting down our economy with the singular goal of limiting the spread of the virus; however, in doing so they have placed less importance upon the economic impact this will have on the over 300,000 jobless Michiganders as well as the negative health side effects of joblessness. The question then becomes: to what extent do we risk the health of citizens to allow our economy to operate?
With respect to the balance between limiting the spread of the virus and allowing the economy to operate, we are neither forced to choose one extreme nor the other. Fortunately for all Michiganders, our farming communities especially, there is a middle ground. This middle ground involves the state relinquishing ground-level control of this crisis to local levels of government. Under this model, counties less affected by the outbreak or those more naturally inclined to social distancing measures can begin to open their economies, reemploy their workers and help ease the burden on the state’s faltering unemployment system. With over 80% of COVID-19 cases concentrated predictably in the highest population-density areas of the state, this would afford us the opportunity to focus our state’s resources on the most highly affected areas while not economically overburdening those less affected. Getting people back to work also means reducing the financial strain on citizens who otherwise could make charitable contributions to help the fight against COVID. This course of action has the added benefit of beginning to build herd-immunity—the act of exposing low-risk individuals to the virus to develop natural anti-bodies eventually resulting in total population immunity—thereby diminishing the likelihood of a deadly second wave of the virus when the cooler temperatures of autumn return.
Advertisements - Click the Speaker Icon for Audio
At the time of this writing, Michigan deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus top 900. Each of those deaths is a tragedy, and any action that can limit the spread of this deadly virus should be taken; however, we must take the consequences of all of our actions into account. Keeping the economy forcibly shut down has tremendous negative side effects. High unemployment leads to businesses shuttering, farms falling behind and families being foreclosed upon. Strong data supports the public health risk of economic catastrophes resulting in high unemployment—most convincingly, a 2014 study found that joblessness increases mortality rates by 79%. We must do everything to save lives during this crisis, and we must use data to the maximum extent possible to foresee the outcomes of all courses of action. Hindsight is always 20/20, and we will always second-guess the decisions that were made, but foresight is telling us that if we do not allow parts of our state to go back to work, lives will be lost.