We must strike a balance

Jim Ostrom
Jim Ostrom

There is no doubt that the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has a real and devastating impact on lives, on families. The human toll of this crisis is truly heartbreaking. As our leaders grapple with complexity and uncertainty, I cannot adequately express my sincere empathy for the difficulty they face. 

However, it is time to have a difficult conversation. At first glance, the prescribed solution of sheltering in place seems logical. It creates separation and disables this virus’ ability to transfer. Other than a relatively few oblivious spring breakers, compliance is high.  Streets are empty. Schools are closed and businesses are shuttered. It’s as if we are all off on an anxiety-filled, extended ‘snow day.’ But the silence of those empty streets has a deafening sound. It is the sound of our economy coming to a hard stop in an unprecedented way. 

We all understand the concept that ‘flattening the curve’ will lead to a more-manageable health care scenario. There is also a developing wisdom that this disease will not fade away any time soon. Herein lies the problem: We cannot pause the economy any longer. In fact, there is really no such thing as an economic pause. The economy is either functioning or it’s not.  At this moment, it is not.

We must balance our policies, considering both human health and our economy. Why?  Because if we do not, the ability of our nation’s families to provide for even the most basic need of food and shelter will fail. Single moms, economically at-risk people and small businesses are failing fast. Many are just days or hours away from collapse. Next, mid-sized and large companies will close. Mass layoffs will ensue and working families will no longer have an income. There is no bail out or government check that can change that grim reality. 

We need to strike a balance.

In life there is risk and tragedy — and there will be gut-wrenching tragedy in the coming months. But those of us in lower-risk groups need to go back to work. No, I am not suggesting life as usual. For now, there can be no large public events or gatherings. Elderly and at-risk people need to continue to shelter in place. Every person needs to take reasonable precautions, but those of us that are lower at risk need to go back to work — for our families, for our nation and to help provide for those who cannot.

We need not “destroy the village to save it.” Our nation has the wherewithal, technology and capability to successfully confront COVID-19 without leveling our economic foundations in the process. 

Our government has never before shut down our economy in this manner. I am not suggesting we are in for a post ‘9/11’ or a ‘Great Recession of 2009’ type of economy — if we continue with ‘shelter in place’ policies, it will be much, much worse. Our economy and our society will resemble that of an impoverished, war-torn country. 

Be assured, if that happens, more human lives will be lost — not from COVID-19, but from abject poverty.

Jim Ostrom is a partner and CEO Milk Source LLC