America has reached a pivotal point in its fight against COVID-19 with attempts to “flatten the curve.” The United States has suffered a serious toll on human life, with over 70,000 deaths. New York City and New Jersey have been hit particularly hard; they are the beating heart of the US economy. There are real concerns that the “cure” is worse than the disease and that shutting down the entire US economy will cause significant damage not just in this quarter but for a few years. This voluntary economic shutdown places us in unprecedented territory. In this US Presidential election year it’s worth exploring the pros and cons of reopening the largest economy in the world.
Is it time to reopen the economy?
Putting major hotspots like the tri-state area aside, the argument for reopening is that the curve has been flattened in many parts of the United States. Catastrophic predictions of the CDC (between 1-2 million deaths) have not come true. Our healthcare system, while taxed in certain areas, has not collapsed (as in Italy) and has weathered the COVID-19 crisis. The argument for reopening ranges from those who want to gradually open some industries to those who think we should never have shut down.
From a security perspective, crime reports are conflicting. There was no increase in crime while people were sheltering at home, though we do not yet have statistics on domestic abuse and violence. Reports from residents (including NYC) note an increase in stolen Amazon packages and a spike in commercial burglaries.
A clear picture from the media depends on your source: Murders in NYC surge for second week in a row as coronavirus lockdown continues (Fox News) as opposed to Crime fell in a locked-down New York City— but less than you might think (The Washington Post). In the near term, if this lockdown continues and stimulus checks run out, many low-wage workers will ask how they will feed their families and pay expenses. If these workers don’t get paid, they may take to the streets, or worse, turn to crime, as happened in the Great Depression.
From a corporate security perspective, Zoom has been great for hackers and criminals. For the first time in history most corporate communication is video recorded via Zoom. A closed-door meeting with a few people is now on Zoom (or similar platform), thus increasing chances of leaked communications. Corporate espionage is at an all-time high.
Economy vs. Life
Keeping the economy closed boils down to a simple fact: protecting the elderly and those most at risk of contracting COVID-19. There is good reason to believe the CDC’s numbers could be a nightmare scenario come true, with millions sick and dead. Aside from the elderly, many high-functioning workers are high risk, taking immune suppressing medication, undergoing chemotherapy, etc. What does this say about a democratic society if we cannot protect those most at risk – and is that the kind of society we want?
There is a real concern that in a reopened economy people will go back to their normal ways, not taking safety precautions such as social distancing, leading to a new wave of infections. From a society-wide concern, we could be back to square one and still not fully understand the virus and its long-term behavior. While people in the US understand COVID-19’s impact, they are looking for leadership from politicians. A clearly articulated plan detailing a time frame and which industries will reopen would reassure the public that this crisis will end at some point.
There are tough policy questions to ask. At some point major decisions must be made, with significant accommodations to the economy. Almost two months into this national lockdown and with calls from business leaders like Elon Musk to reopen the economy, many governors increasingly feel that they have no choice due to political and economic pressure.
For additional resources and guidance, the Interfor team is here to help.