As we evaluate our citizens’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot reach any other conclusion than that Americans’ resolve and ability to come together remain strong. Executive leadership has successfully mobilized and educated the public on the steps to slow the spread of the virus.
We are at a point in our response, however, where success requires that we look beyond the daily infection numbers and plan a strategy for a resilient society that can remain economically vibrant in the presence of COVID-19. If America’s military operations in the past two decades have taught us anything, it should be that planning for the exit or operational conclusion is as important as the initial mission.
Indefinite economic shutdown — like indefinite war — is not sustainable. The American people have a tremendous capacity for patience, sacrifice and courage. Their supply of those quantities, however, is not unlimited.
Therefore, our leaders need to start talking about the point where we reopen our businesses and move our economy back toward normal. I am not advocating for an immediate end to social distancing and reopening schools — far from it. I believe those moves should occur when we assess that our medical capacity is capable of handling the influx of hospitalizations that likely further cases of COVID-19 will cause.
In order to do this, we need to start projecting how many COVID-19 patients will require hospitalizations compared to the amount of hospital capacity. The websites where we monitor the disease numbers should show COVID-19 hospital inpatients, rather than simply the numbers of deaths and confirmed cases.
In the interim, we should utilize an incremental approach to reactivating our economy. In areas where we can safely move back to normal, we should. This is not a suggestion that we sacrifice lives to COVID-19 in favor of economic growth. Instead, this recognizes that social isolation and economic catastrophe carry a cost in lives, as well. Our goal should be to minimize the loss of life and other damage in both the near term and the long term.
Lastly, we need to pray for our leaders, cut them some slack, and trust that they are attempting to make the best decisions with limited information. Our leaders face two different, difficult balancing acts. First, our leaders must balance the prevention measures that are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 against potential hysteria and infringement of our civil liberties. Second, they must also weigh the high costs of lives lost to COVID-19 against the lives lost due to economic distress and diminished preventative social interactions, as well as the dangers to students who aren’t in supervised classrooms.
Both our federal and state pandemic responses have plenty of room for improvement. We should ruthlessly identify problem areas, but offer solutions, not blame. I have complete confidence that we, as both a nation and a state, will pull through this pandemic. Whether we come through stronger or weaker depends on our choices now. For a stronger Illinois and America, it is time to unite and think about the path back to normal.
State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, represents the 58th district in Illinois.
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