The country is firmly on the path to opening up. Meanwhile, reactions have flared: more deaths vs. a collapse into an economic abyss. The Senate HELP Committee hearings this past week did not do much better.
The focus needs to change, from talking to formulating rational action plans.
The question now is, how do we best open up that taking all the challenges into account?
We now know a great deal about the virus and the different risks it poses to our population segments. Good starting point. We also know that the country has had vastly different experiences with the virus, from horrific to benign. Looking deeper, we know experiences within each state have also varied widely. We have sadly learned the impacts on different demographic groups and housing profiles.
The elderly in long term facilities have been devastated, as the numbers for Moore County and elsewhere in the country demonstrate. People over 60 and anyone with underlying conditions account for a majority of the fatalities. Recently, some middle-aged people with the virus have developed clots that threaten their lives; answers for this are wanting.
The policy driver for specific new action plans is this: The challenges we face will be with us until there is a robust vaccine. In short, we are on defense for about another year.
Dr. Anthony Fauci this week cautioned in Senate hearings that vaccine trials cannot be shortened further. We must know if the vaccine is truly effective and that it does not act as an accelerant to the virus. Of the 100 vaccines in development worldwide, eight are already in the three-step clinical trial process to determine efficacy. Expect some to fail and hope others will succeed.
Assembling what we now know, for the country, for North Carolina, and for Moore, we can open up so long as:
n Distancing and hygiene, in all forms, remain our primary defense until there is a vaccine.
n Testing, tracing, isolation and treatment are ramped up to protect the vulnerable. On-site testing in care facilities and sentinel testing of workers everywhere are now an imperative; the various rapid tests are cheap investments to the opening-up process. It is time to order and deploy them, governments and businesses alike.
n We embrace tele-practices that have proven effective during the shutdown and we create more. Zoom and other variants, some of which can be encrypted, have proven to be great meeting places.
n Schools and universities develop and distribute new campus plans and protocols for interaction before they open.
n Aggregate and regional health-related data are both vigorously collected and made transparent. The data will teach us more about the virus and encourage positive responses by the public and health agencies alike as we open up.
Until there is a vaccine, there will be setbacks over the next year, with spikes of infection as people adjust to a more active interim norm. The creative protocols in workplaces to operate safely should be vetted and respected. Local solutions are responses to the nature of local problems; they will be more effective if people understand and embrace those challenges and protocols.
The time is ripe to build the best path forward. To cite the common saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Ingenuity and call to action have always been the hallmarks of America.
The talents in North Carolina and here in Moore County run deep and wide. Let us not waste them in over-analyzing the decision to open up. Rather, put them to full use to develop specific operational safety protocols for all locations and businesses.
Richard Pabst is a retired economist and has lived in Pinehurst the past 11 years.