Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


Where do we start when opening up the economy?

Associated Press

Let's start with agreeing that no one fully understands COVID-19 -- it is new and mutating -- and that information, projections and guidance have changed over time as more is learned about it.

Initially, some world health experts and epidemiologists said it wasn't a concern in America, cases were not transmissible between people, that masks were unhelpful, to that there was a vast shortage of ventilators in the country and that -- amped up by the media without proper context -- more than two million Americans would die from the disease by August at a staggering high percentage of all who contracted it.

All this information and guidance has changed.

Let's start with understanding that "flattening the curve" does not mean eliminating infections and deaths. It means spreading infections into the future so that medical equipment and staffs are not overwhelmed -- and time can be bought for the development of therapeautics (treatments) and vaccines.

Let's start with recognizing that the majority of people who contract the disease show no symptoms and have no ill effects, which is both good and dangerous. It means most people can engage in business and life without fear for themselves while, horribly, being a potential carrier to someone whose condition makes them vulnerable to pain and death.

Let's start with the repetition that a vaccine will take at best a year to 18 months, and that there is no guarantee one will ever be developed. Or that other experts say medical breakthroughs are fast-tracking development of a vaccine, and several are in successful trials already with production capabilities being ramped up to be ready for mass production if proven and approved.

Let's start with the mantra from some officials that "testing, testing, testing" is the only "solution," even while testing in an environment of asymptomatic people is nearly impossible to manage. Meanwhile, many tests -- especially antibody tests, because of false positives -- may be good for surveying a population but not for determining the condition of a specific person. In other words, testing helps and provides important knowledge, but it is no panacea.

Let's start with acknowledging that New York City is unique in America for its high density of people; the high use of encapsulated subways, busses and trains; and its location as an international hub. And that it is also the media capital of the nation, where what happens or is believed there is often projected upon the rest of the country, rightly or wrongly.

Let's start with understanding that different countries and U.S. states have responded to the virus with different strategies. From Sweden: originally castigated by health organizations and most of the American press for not locking down its economy to now being called a " future model" by the World Health Organization for how it is purposefully navigating the development of herd immunity within economic normalcy. To New Zealand -- an island country with low population density -- that shut everything down, including its borders, effectively eliminating the virus but now trying to figure how to reopen without simply finding itself where it was six weeks ago. Neither Sweden nor New Zealand is anything like the much bigger, more diverse and politically heterogeneous United States.

And we won't know which countries or states made the right choices until time has passed -- and a vaccine is or isn't developed and total deaths are accounted for.

Let's start with recognizing that the governor of Florida was pilloried for opening up part of the economy, including many beaches, and charged with being a murderer by many in the media. And yet the results have been nothing like critics predicted. Let's start with California saying that it would be irresponsible to open up part of the economy on one day to doing just that a few days later. And then there are rural parts of Georgia or towns like Des Moines or even places here in Missouri, which are seeing worrisome spikes in infections as people fail to take personal precautions.

Let's start with recognizing social distancing slows the infection rate. Masks help. Washing hands is vital. And the most vulnerable -- the elderly and those with underlying health conditions -- need special attention and should isolate differently than everyone else. But that not everyone needs to isolate like the most vulnerable; unless you are going to interact with them, in which case, you must be extremely careful or America will experience more deaths, especially in retirement homes.

Let's start with the revolutionary idea that no one -- Republican, Democrat or Independent -- wants people to die. There is no zeal for others to have pain -- physical or economic. But no decision is without negative repercussions; we just can't be certain what decisions -- in this world of Covid unknowns -- are optimal, and we won't know until time has passed and we can look back and compare different paths.

Let's start with respecting others -- and realizing that we're all in this together -- and that there are legitimate reasons for disagreement. That there are difficult trade-offs for any decision. And if you don't believe there are, then you may be part of the problem. And if you ascribe those you disagree with to the worst (and not best) examples of their logic, then you definitely are.

Let's start with this.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.