In response to the coronavirus, Americans were told by their federal and state governments to shut down their businesses, stop going to church, work, school or out to eat, travel only when necessary and hunker down at home. Originally, Americans were led to believe this was for a two- or three-week period, in order to flatten the curve and not overwhelm our health care system.
At seven weeks and counting, with staggering economic loss that will leave families and thousands of small businesses and farmers with profound devastation, the question must be asked, are we trying to flatten the curve or flatten our country?
The initial models that pointed to staggering loss of life from the coronavirus have proved wildly inaccurate. As of May 2, the CDC placed the number of deaths in the U.S. from the virus at 66,746. While all loss of life is deeply regrettable, these numbers cannot be considered in a vacuum. For perspective, deaths from pneumonia in the U.S. during the same period were 64,382, with average yearly deaths from influenza in the same range.
The original goal of closing much of the U.S. economy and staying at home was to flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases so that our hospital systems would not be overwhelmed. Hospitals built by the Army Corps of Engineers to handle the increased volume have mostly been taken down. Except for a few spots in the U.S. the health care system was not overwhelmed. As the medical models of casualties from the coronavirus continue to be adjusted down, it is clear the curve has been flattened, so why do we continue to stay closed and worsen the economic devastation that tunnel vision has thus far kept many of our leaders from acknowledging?
Many health experts say 80 percent of Americans will get the coronavirus and experience only mild symptoms. The curve has been flattened. Our health care system is not overwhelmed. Why is our economy, for the most part, still closed?
A University of Washington study recently revised the projected number of deaths from the coronavirus in Iowa from 1,367 to a much lower estimate of 365. While all loss of life is horrific, we must also consider the devastation being done to our economy, our families and our way of life by actions taken to combat the coronavirus.
It must be noted that 578 Iowans died from the flu and pneumonia in 2017, a greater number than are likely to pass away from the coronavirus. We also know that many who die from the virus are elderly with underlying health conditions, increasing the likelihood that any serious illness could result in their death. Are draconian government restrictions in response to the coronavirus still needed and economically sustainable? The data shows that the answers to both questions is no. We are no longer flattening the curve; we are flattening our state and nation.
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We have seen the medical data. What has been less visible in news conferences and in the overall reporting of the coronavirus and our response to it, are the economic and human costs of what we are doing:
• 30 million Americans are out of work and the number grows daily.
• Dairy farmers are pouring out milk they have no market for.
• Pork producers are euthanizing hogs they have no market for.
• According to a study by Iowa State University, the losses to Iowa Agriculture are at a staggering $6.7 billion and growing, with the largest losses in pork production and ethanol.
• In Iowa, the economic loss for corn is estimated to be $788 million, $213 million for soybean and $34 million for cattle.
• The Iowa Restaurant Association estimates that between 10 & 25% of Iowa’s restaurants will not reopen.
• Iowa’s public universities are predicting a $187 million loss.
• Iowa is spending $200 million or more per month on unemployment claims, with over 171,000 Iowans unemployed.
• 29 percent of the U.S. economy is frozen as a result of government action, with U.S. economic output down 29 percent.
• U.S. unemployment could soon hit 47 million.
• Losses to U.S. tourism are predicted to top $910 billion.
• Retirement plans for millions of Americans are being decimated, with recent reports projecting the average 401(k) loss at 19 percent.
• Drug and alcohol addiction and relapse are increasing.
• Testing for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are being delayed, which could lead to increasing health problems and life-threatening illnesses in the future.
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• Economic damage to rural hospitals could lead to hospital closures and less access to health care in some areas.
• Warnings of a possible meat shortage in the U.S. have been issued by executives of Farmland and Tyson, with reports that the food supply chain is under stress. Several grocery store chains are now limiting meat purchases and some national restaurant chains are no longer offering certain meat products on their menus. Higher meat prices are almost certain in the months to come.
• Huge U.S. debt increases unlike anything seen since World War II, to the tune of over $3 trillion and counting, are adding to the already monstrous $22 trillion in U.S. debt. This does not bode well for our children or future economic stability.
The list of consequences goes on and on, and behind each of the statistics is a family struggling to survive, a father and mother fearful of how they will care for their children, a small-business owner seeing their dreams and hard work destroyed overnight by draconian government mandates, a restaurant owner deciding never to reopen, a dairy farmer throwing in the towel and a business owner postponing indefinitely plans for expanding.
Behind these numbers is an economy greatly impacted by the government response to the coronavirus, with implications for our economic well-being profound and long lasting. Expansion projects delayed, business closures, layoffs and contraction for many businesses will likely keep unemployment numbers high and depress economic expansion for an unknown amount of time.
Let us be clear, it grows worse every day we remain closed.
Steve Holt represents District 18 in the Iowa House.