COVID-19 continues to take a toll in the U.S., with more than 13 million cases and over 260,000 deaths. The rise in cases has led to interventions by state governments.
Given that the health threat is real, we should learn from what has worked —and what has not. That means we must work hard on a vaccine, protect the vulnerable, and let most people live their lives.
Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington have closed most businesses. New Mexico has issued a shelter-in-place order. Other states have started mandating masks. Some Texans are pushing for more interventions even as we’ve had a statewide mask mandate since July 2.
While these interventions are well-intended, blanket and indefinite policies simply aren’t warranted. Such policies have already cost millions of jobs.
During the lockdown that started in March, many Texans’ livelihoods suffered a devastating blow. The state’s economy contracted by a record 29% on an annual basis in the second quarter of 2020. This contributed to at least 8,900 shuttered businesses, losses of 1.3 million jobs in the private sector, and an unemployment rate that skyrocketed to 13.5% through April.
In a survey taken at the end of May, 16% of Texans said they were facing financial ruin, and 22% said it would take them a year or more to recover. These figures likely have worsened since then.
After reopening some businesses in May and then reversing course over the summer, Gov. Abbott changed the method for assessing how and when to expand capacity at certain business venues.
The new system—considering COVID-19 hospitalizations as a share of hospital capacity in each of 22 trauma service areas — allowed a more targeted, timely, and temporary approach. And it reflected the intent of the initial lockdown response to “flatten the curve” so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
If a trauma service area has a rate for seven straight days in which less than 15 percent of total hospital capacity has been COVID-19 patients, then most businesses there can expand from 50% to 75% capacity. Currently, 94% of Texans are in areas that can be at 75% capacity—contributing to more economic activity.
But state totals of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been at or near their highest since the pandemic started.
This has initiated calls by the Statesman’s Editorial Board for people to act responsibly, for a new path in Texas’ response that has been “marked by high hopes and half measures,” and for a “serious national strategy.”
But Gov. Abbott rightfully said lockdowns are off the table: “Our focal point is going be working to heal those who have COVID, get them out of hospitals quickly, make sure they get back to their normal lives,” he said.
With several vaccines getting closer to being available and with Pfizer announcing a pilot program to deliver the vaccine quickly in Texas, there is no reason for a lockdown.
Let’s acknowledge we can’t get to zero cases and deaths without eliminating liberty and livelihoods, and let’s better allocate our efforts in a targeted, temporary, and timely way until the vaccine is readily available and population immunity occurs.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.