Social Distancing is Bringing Down Coronavirus Deaths, but at What Cost?

AARP

The COVID-19 pandemic has done serious damage to the US, both in terms of human lives lost and economic fallout. Social distancing has proven to be a necessary evil as medical workers hurry to address an overwhelmed hospital system. Thousands have died, but aggressive social distancing measures have saved countless more.

However, nothing can come without a cost. While lives have been saved, the massive economic repercussions of the COVID-19 response can’t be overstated. Many worry that even after the virus has been contained, there might not be much more of an economy left standing.

What’s the Damage?

It’s difficult, at this stage, to say exactly what the damage from COVID-19 will be. The death toll is still rising, but there is hope it will flatten and begin to fall soon. Meanwhile, unemployment rates are soaring as people in retail and other sectors lose their jobs.

The steps taken to slow the spread of the virus have led to businesses closing their doors and people be urged (and often ordered) to stay home. COVID-19 is a serious threat to public health, so these measures seem justified. But they won’t come without a cost.

When the US made moves to contain the virus, it had to be drastic. A judgment call was made: the economic damage of social distancing and forced closures was not going to outweigh the number of lives saved by those draconian measures. In hard times, you make difficult decisions.

Recession, or Maybe Worse

Financial firms are hoping for the best, but predicting the worse. While some businesses may be able to tentatively reopen their doors following the ending of social distancing measures, others may not be so lucky. The cost of keeping employees on the payroll have often been outweighed by the costs of paying the building’s lease.

The federal government will be offering loans to small businesses to help them stay afloat during this time. Many have wondered if this will be enough in the face of the unprecedented health crisis. People might not be eager to rush back out to bars and movie theaters even after the official guidelines have been lifted.

Return to Normal?

One need look no further than Wuhan, China, where the lockdown was lifted on April 7 after over three months. Life has been slowly returning to normal, but it hasn’t been a boom of business. People are still staying home and avoiding crowds. The threat of reinfection still looms for the beleaguered city.

Maybe America will be different. Maybe we’ll rush back out to our favorite local businesses, eager to spend our federal stimulus money and kick-start local economies. Only time will tell, but the future is certainly gray, at best, for the economy as a whole.