Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, many governors across the United States have imposed harsh restrictions to halt the spread of the virus. These policies, albeit with good intentions, have caused many unintended consequences for people in areas that have been most impacted by the stay-at-home orders. After months of these lockdowns, it’s time we reach a decision: should we reopen the economy, which will certainly put more people at risk of contracting the virus, or should we continue with our current strategy, potentially leading us to another Great Depression?
These stay-at-home orders have had disastrous effects on the economy that could possibly bring the United States into a Great Depression. The official unemployment rate has risen all the way to 14.7 percent, the second-highest it has been since the 25 percent rate reached during the Great Depression. Some estimates, however, have it even higher: the Bureau of Labor Statistics hinted that the current unemployment rate is 19.7 percent. According to CNBC, economists have said that “A rate that breaches 20% and persists for several months would likely meet the definition of a ‘depression.’”
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only been devastating for the economy but has also contributed to a mental health crisis. According to Well Being Trust, a national public health group, “Unemployment during the Great Recession was associated with an increase in suicide deaths and drug overdose deaths.” As reported by CNN, 75,000 Americans are predicted to die from the misuse of substances and suicides during this pandemic. These statistics demonstrate the direct link between a crippling economy and a rise in drug overdoses and suicide rates. As shown in the Great Recession, a study by the National Library of Medicine “Found that of the Great Recession that began in late 2007 found that for every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, there was about a 1.6 percent increase in the suicide rate.” In addition, a Texas nonprofit known as Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute found that “if unemployment rises by 20 percentage points — to levels recorded during the 1930s Great Depression — suicides could increase by 18,000 and overdose deaths by more than 22,000.”
Despite the lockdowns having devastating effects on the economy, they have been successful in combatting the spread of COVID-19. A New York Times study found that if the United States had begun enforcing lockdowns one week before they did in March, an estimated 36,000 lives would have been saved.
Although these numbers from the New York Times are devastating, this study does not take into account the fact that having a lockdown is not the only way to halt the spread of the virus. There are many other solutions that the United States could have followed without destroying the economy. Both the federal government and different state governments should have taken the severity of COVID-19 much more seriously. We should look at the way countries like Japan and South Korea and how they were successfully able to attack the virus without issuing a lockdown. Evan Sarno ‘21 expressed support for safely reopening the economy saying, “While experts have expressed doubts about re-opening our economy, I believe we as a country are close to the end. Although opening up would be difficult and has its risks, I think a gradual recovery is possible. Health systems across the US have the capacity to handle the rise of more COVID-19 infections. Additionally, the rate of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining. If our testing capacity becomes stronger in order to isolate infected people and potential carriers, then I’m confident that the successful re-opening of our economy is in the near future.” Evan Sarno finished by adding that he is hopeful that “We can come back to school in the fall.”
Although it is vital for us to protect our most vulnerable while promoting safety measures such as social distancing and the use of face masks, we can no longer afford the disastrous economic and mental health effects of this virus. Moreover, one man or woman in a state should not be deciding whether a business is essential or non-essential. Moving forward, we need to safely reopen the economy and get our country back on track.