Alexander's Column

The 'War on Virus' — What's Our Exit Strategy?

Formulating and implementing this exit strategy will be the most difficult and complex policy decision by any president in decades.

Mark Alexander · Mar. 25, 2020
“Tis well.” —George Washington (1799)

In the cold season of 1799, George Washington was happily retired at his Mount Vernon family home on the Potomac, where he entertained a constant flow of guests. On December 12th of that year, by the exceptional account of historians David and Jeanne Heidler: “He rode out to inspect the farms despite a lowering sky and a plunging thermometer. As he made his way, rain became snow, and it hailed. He was late returning to the mansion and would not delay dinner by changing into dry clothes.”

The next day was colder, with three inches of snow on the ground, but Washington, even sensing he had symptoms of a cold, “went out to tag some trees he wanted taken down.” That night, his symptoms went “from bad, as his every swallow became like flame, to worse, as his throat began to close.” He was having trouble breathing and his secretary, Tobias Lear, sent word for assistance from Dr. James Craik, among others. Upon Craik’s arrival on the 14th and finding Washington’s condition dire, he “bled” him, and did so four more times that day. As the Heidlers note, “Thus began the medieval medical rituals that never cured and sometimes killed.” His doctors “did what they knew best, which was to open veins, administer purgatives, and ultimately heat tumblers to blister Washington’s feet and legs, a procedure thought effective in drawing out toxins.”

According to Lear’s diaries, late in the day, as Washington’s condition was nearing fatal, he said to Craik: “I die hard; but I’m not afraid to go. … You had better not take any more trouble about me; but let me go off quietly; I cannot last long.” At about 11:00 he whispered his last words to Lear: “Tis well.” His breathing stopped, and Craik gently closed Washington’s eyes. He died with his wife Martha at his side.

My point in relating this account is that sometimes the “cure” can be worse than the disease, and it doesn’t ensure survivability. The practice of bloodletting and blistering had endured as a medical remedy for 20 centuries, but it couldn’t save the most revered man in America and undoubtedly made more miserable his demise. Yet it was the best that Washington’s doctors knew to do.

Today, Washington DC’s best doctors and federal agency heads forming President Donald Trump’s respected Coronavirus Task Force are doing their best to minimize the damage caused by the spread of the COVID-19 disease across our nation.

But as I asked two weeks ago in my analysis, “Is the COVID-19 Cure Killing Us?,” the critical question comes down to, “Is the cure right-sized for the disease?”

Physicians traditionally subscribe to the principles of the ancient Hippocratic Oath, including the maxim, “First do no harm” (Latin: Primum non nocere). But it can be very difficult, given all the available knowledge, to understand how not to do harm — and indeed, as many survivors of cancer and other diseases can attest, sometimes one has to endure harm in order to survive.

The Coronavirus Task Force and all concerned have labored endlessly to understand the threat in order to right-size the response — and they continue to do so 24/7. But as the economic consequences of the “cure” continue to mount, as men and women who were gainfully employed in a robust economy three weeks ago are now wondering if they can make ends meet, it’s high time to begin hammering out a “War on Virus” exit strategy.

Asked for specifics about our national strategy last week, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx declared: “You know, as President Trump has said from the beginning, everything is on the table. Every day we go over data. The task force reviews it and really uses science and data to drive policy and decision-making.”

Dr. Birx and the rest of the Task Force members are highly qualified, and they are no doubt doing the best that they can given the limitations of their modeling. And I’m equally certain that the Trump administration is acutely aware of the consequences of the current partial economic shutdown.

But, “everything is on the table” is not a strategy, and the public panic and economic collapse in the wake of no clear exit strategy must be resolved. Clearly, formulating and implementing this exit strategy will be the most difficult and complex policy decision by any president in decades. I should note here, to the Trump administration’s great credit, I dare think where we would be right now if this partial shutdown had not started in a record strong economy.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there will be 50-60 thousand flu deaths this season. The 2017-18 flu season death toll was more than 80,000. China Virus casualties could far exceed that. But I’ve yet to see an estimate regarding the number of deaths we’re avoiding by shuttering our nation’s economy, or the number of deaths that might result from the continued shutdown.

How can we alter the “Great Distancing” in order to avoid another lengthy Great Recession, as in 2008, or something much worse?

In recent days, concerns I expressed about a right-sized CV19 cure have now been echoed far and wide.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined: “No society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health. Even America’s resources to fight a viral plague aren’t limitless — and they will become more limited by the day as individuals lose jobs, businesses close, and American prosperity gives way to poverty. America urgently needs a pandemic strategy that is more economically and socially sustainable than the current national lockdown.”

There were similar appeals from The Economist, Washington Examiner, The Hill, American Enterprise Institute, RealClearPolicy, and countless other mainstream-media outlets.

For his part, President Trump has no doubt been contemplating the gravity of this issue amid the plethora of actions his administration has already taken to try to protect the nation.

This week, he has repeatedly stated that the economic trajectory of the current cure is not sustainable: “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem. We have to open our country because [not doing so] causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems. … Life is fragile, and economies are fragile. At a certain point, we have to get open and get moving. We don’t want to lose these companies and we don’t want to lose these workers.”

Asked what the medical community recommends, Trump replied, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down. Let’s shut down the entire world … for a couple years.’ And you can’t do that with a country — especially the number one economy in the world.” (Of course, the Chinese would certainly vote to demote the U.S. economy…)

Regarding changes we can expect at the end of the current 15-day CV19 guidelines, Trump said, “Our public health experts, who are terrific, are studying the variation and the disease across the country, and we will be using data to recommend new protocols to allow local economies to cautiously resume their activity at the appropriate time.”

But on Tuesday, Trump stated with resolve, “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” That, for the record, is 12 April.

Predictably, Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a political out, claiming, “This is not a time for notion-mongering; this is a time for serious, evidence-based decision making.” And when the administration takes appropriate action to begin reopening economic sectors currently shuttered, I can assure you that the Pelosi/Schumer tag team will claim, “Trump is putting our parents and grandparent at great risk so he can bail out his Wall Street cronies.”

However, the nation needs to see light at the end of the tunnel, and I hope Trump shines that light before the week is out. We need an exit strategy for the War on Virus.

With this in mind, I hope some measured combination of these nine national-policy guidelines and a strategy for rolling them back will form the basis for what we hear from the president and his CV19 Task Force by the end of this week:

  1. If you feel sick, stay home, and if you have sick children, keep them at home.

  2. Identify and isolate those who are sick and undertake quick evaluation measures like non-invasive temperature readings for entry into public venues, including transportation systems.

  3. If someone in your household has tested positive for the virus causing CV19 disease, keep your family home.

  4. If you’re an older person or have other conditions that put you at higher risk of fatality from CV19 disease, stay home.

  5. Maintain the best enhanced hygiene practices.

  6. Maintain the “social distancing” guidelines outside of work environments, which in terms of group size may still temporarily limit gathering venues such as places of worship, public events, restaurants and bars, etc., but establish a rolling open strategy for those venues.

  7. Where businesses can function near full capacity remotely (as is the case with The Patriot Post), maintain that distancing for a prescribed amount of time.

  8. Allow those who are at much lower risk for CV19 fatality to go back to work.

  9. Evaluate these measures constantly and adjust accordingly.

Make no mistake: Opening up the workplace to low-risk Americans will increase CV19 spread and deaths, but I believe at a cost far less severe than the prolonged and abject human misery that accompanies an economic collapse. This is a price our society must be willing to bear in order to function — and to be prepared to avoid this shutdown nightmare next time we face a pandemic threat. (Notably, it is unfortunate that the free world has demonstrated to China and Russia, that bugs can result in mandated economic shutdowns.)

In addition, we should all hope that the seasonal “climate change” in the Northern Hemisphere bringing warmer temperatures will significantly slow the rate of CV19 spread. Global warming this year may provide the greatest relief from the China Virus.

As it stands now, the president’s senior economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, seconded Trump’s economic assessment: “We can’t shut down the economy. The economic cost to individuals is just too great. The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”

For the record, Kudlow warned that the actual cost to taxpayers (now and future generations) of repairing the economic damage already done could be as much as $2 TRILLION, and the treasury adjustments could cost another $4 TRILLION, a total that is approximately 30% of GDP.

Fortunately, Democrats have stopped obstructing the CV19 emergency funding by padding it with unrelated special-interest projects. However, it still contains a lot of special-interest pork despite Pelosi’s nefarious claim, “Everything we’re suggesting just relates to COVID-19.”

Of course, Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer may still get what they have hoped for ahead of the 2020 election — a severe recession.

Regarding all the disgraceful Demo political machinations, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) declared, “The American people are thinking … this country was founded by geniuses, but it’s being run by a bunch of idiots.” That was an understatement.

As a sidebar, here’s a novel viral proposal: How about the House and Senate pass resolutions to stop their government paychecks (with no back-end reimbursement) until all Americans are receiving paychecks again?

So, here is some context for the $2-$6 trillion estimate: Earlier this month, in a column on proposals to exit Afghanistan, I noted that, beyond the incalculable cost of American lives, the Operation Enduring Freedom cost to U.S. taxpayers is $978 billion. The cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the neighboring Syria front is $880 billion.

Thus, our nation has expended $130 billion less on the two longest wars in our nation’s history than the estimated CV19 recovery cost — and we still don’t have a clear exit strategy from those “War on Terror” combat theaters.

If we fail to implement a “War on Virus” exit strategy now, how much will our children and grandchildren be obligated to pay for it in the future? On Friday, we expect the Trump administration to chart a strategic path forward.

Finally, I know this for certain — We Are Survivors. Our countrymen survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008 (not to mention a couple of catastrophic world wars). We will survive the Great Distancing of 2020. I just hope history shows that our actions today to mitigate and recover from this acute economic collapse prove much more effective than our efforts to mitigate and recover from the last two economic catastrophes.

Footnotes

Regarding all those dramatic increases in CV19 numbers, as I noted last week, they reflect primarily increased rates of testing, not the actual rate of spreading.

There is a pending House resolution condemning China for seeding the CV19 pandemic. Let’s see where Pelosi lines up on that measure.

(Visit our comprehensive China Virus Pandemic response and recovery page, and see our related pages.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

Updated


Join us in prayer for our Patriots in uniform and their families — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen — standing in harm’s way, and for our nation’s First Responders. We also ask prayer for your Patriot team, that our mission would seed and encourage the Spirit of Liberty in the hearts and minds of our countrymen.

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