It May Sound Heartless, But We Have to Get Back to Work

Monday, April 13, 2020

We need to get back to work.

Before you judge me for making that statement, hear me out. For starters, I don’t have all the answers. There is no one right answer, and no one person has all the information we need to recover from the pandemic. It’s something we must do together, and we need to be as safe as possible in the process.

This article is my opinion, an opinion based on the lessons I learned in the military — I’m a veteran — as well as the various experiences — good and bad — I’ve encountered as a businessman.

The conversation around the coronavirus and its impact on the American people is shifting rapidly and often. There are always two sides to a coin, and in the current environment we are being inundated with new information that’s changing so quickly, it’s almost impossible to keep up. This creates panic and anxiety for each one of us.

But two facts remain: We are dealing with people’s lives. So, we need to make the right decisions. And, two, we must get back to work.

That’s a bold statement. It’s probably not very popular either, but it’s the truth. The sooner we address the elephant in the room, the sizable economic specter that’s looming over all our heads, the sooner we can get people back to work, and prepare for the recovery process that will follow the end of the pandemic.

The question is, how? Obviously, we don’t want to put people at risk, and we certainly can’t ignore the dangers inherent to the coronavirus. That’s why in the next 2–3 weeks, we need to do the following:

  • Adopt a battlefield triage mentality
  • Identify the best ways to protect those who are at high risk
  • Increase testing efficiency and reliability to identify those who can most safely return to work immediately and quarantine others
  • Change the dialogue, stop the spread of misinformation, and lay out a plan for recovery

As a veteran, I can’t help but look at our current situation through a military lens. Right or wrong, that is how I approach it. If this was a battle — and I believe it is — we need to take a war footing approach. That means we need to prepare to attack this COVID-19 outbreak like we would a war.

There needs to be battlefield triage to deal with the increasing number of cases. We need to focus on treating the people who are most critically ill, and we need to make sure we’re giving them the best available care and with the right treatments. For instance, reports about coronavirus potentially resulting in a dry pneumonia raise questions about how ventilators should be set for better results. Under medical supervision, we need to aggressively treat and quarantine those who are diagnosed early and have less severe symptoms — there is strong anecdotal evidence around highly effective treatments, with relatively low risks — and, we must provide our high-risk individuals with assistance, keep them distanced and safe. Once that’s done, the rest of the country needs to get back to work.

In any battle there’s going to be a cost and benefit calculation and assessment. The idea that people aren’t going to get this virus is nonsense. Medical developments are going full speed ahead, but cures, vaccines, these things take time. The stay home, shelter-in-place mandates are to slow the spread of the virus so that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system, which would be dangerous for American lives. These mandates are not going to stop people from getting COVID-19.

Yes, significant pockets of the US are preparing for a tough wave as the coronavirus peaks, but we aren’t yet in a situation where patients are lined up waiting for ventilators. Are we stretched painfully thin in certain states? Absolutely. But people aren’t dying because they can’t receive care. Instead, we’re adapting. Federal and other state’s inventories are being moved to the hardest hit areas, and doctors in New York hospitals, which have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus, are now prepared to use “ventilator sharing.” Should the current inventory of machines prove insufficient, they’ve figured out a way to allow two patients to use one machine.

The shortage of appropriate healthcare gear and other resources is slowly being corrected. Well established scions of industry like 3M, Ford, GM, not to mention a long list of smaller companies all over the country are stepping up to produce the supplies we need. It’s a very compassionate response, but some of their efforts have been stalled due to a lack of workers. They’re ready to get factories humming making what we need, but there’s no capability if people don’t show back up to work due to current stay-at-home guidance.

If we’re going to beat this thing and have the equipment that we need to do battle and save lives, people must go back to work. Otherwise, we won’t have manufacturing capabilities. And within another 30–60 days, if we allow more than 30 percent of our population to go unemployed — even with the bailout — we literally will not have enough capital in the United States of America to put people back to work. You can’t hire people if you don’t have revenue to pay for them. Or, if you don’t have debt or loans set up for companies to hire people back. It won’t happen.

At some point you must take a war footing analysis of the costs and benefits. That doesn’t mean we’re writing people off to die. Not at all. We take our most at risk, we make sure they’re quarantined, we work together as a nation to protect them. We ask those in our population who have tested positive for antibodies providing immunity — and those who have safely recovered — to immediately return to work. Then we accept the 80–90 percent chance that others may get sick but will recover just as they would from the flu.

That’s not a pie-in-the-sky statement. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people with COVID-19 only experience a mild illness. They can recover at home without medical care.

So, we must ask ourselves, what do we want to do? What do we want to happen? How do we want to handle this crisis?

Is getting people back to work risky? Yes, absolutely. Could people die? Again, yes. But if we continue our current path, there will be another kind of death in addition to those that may — or may not — occur as a result of the coronavirus — the death of the American economy. We could end up in a depression with no foreseeable recovery.

The coronavirus is extremely strong. It may live on surfaces for a few hours or several days. So, we need to protect those who are at high risk. If we operate with a battle triage mindset, we can slow the rate of new coronavirus cases, prepare enough beds to handle the inevitable rise in the number of cases, and work to provide our medical team on the front lines with the supplies they need to win this war — all while buying our researchers more time to come up with treatments and or solutions.

Our economy is suffering significantly. We cannot withstand unemployment numbers that exceed 16+million Americans and continue to climb. If we stay in the position we’re currently in, we’re dead. And by dead, I mean, once the pandemic subsides — and it will — we will not have the capital we need to pay people to get back to work. The American economy will be too far in the hole.

Let’s come together as a nation, put our loved ones in the safest positions possible, provide them with the necessary supplies and support they need, and make some adjustments to working conditions to minimize risk.

Finally, let’s change the dialogue. Let’s socialize the facts and provide everyone with a logical cost/benefit analysis of the current and near-future situation. We must stop the spread of misinformation — easier said than done, I know — and then approach this as a united front. Each person must do his or her part to fight this on the front lines. Whether that means wearing a mask, caring for at risk elderly, or going back to work.

Right now, there are a lot of unanswered questions. What happens if we do allow those who can to go back to work? Will we see an uptick in the economy? Will the number of infected Americans rise? Will we make things worse? We can’t predict the exact right answers to these questions. But we can make a plan, and forge ahead instead of waiting for perfect answers to appear while the economy free-falls.

As harsh as it may sound, we really don’t have a choice. Not if we hope to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and avoid a depression the likes of which we have yet to see in American history. We must get back to work.