How well the American economy performs over the short- and intermediate-term depends on the path of the coronavirus. At issue is the recent surge in new Covid-19 cases and deaths due to the highly contagious Delta variant and the more recent Lambda variant. Another factor is the clash between politics and science. More on that below. As we experience a new wave of infections, one must ask how long Covid will persist? Between March 1918 and the summer of 1919, the world experienced three distinct waves of the Spanish Flu. Covid-19 will likely exceed this number. Regardless, economic growth in the U.S. will suffer, to some degree, unless we take more aggressive measures to combat Covid.
Viruses mutate and SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is no different. The recent Delta variant is much more contagious than the original Alpha strain. For example, the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus had an R-naught factor of 2.5 to 3.0 where, on average, each person infected with the virus would spread it to 2.5 to 3.0 people. The Delta variant has an R-naught factor of 8.0 to 9.0. Thus, one infected person will spread the virus to as many as nine others. The Delta variant was first discovered in India.
Another variant has reached America. According to experts, the Lambda variant may have originated in Peru in August 2020. Today it accounts for about 90% of the cases in that country. Recently, it was reported that Lambda was found in Texas before spreading to north Louisiana. Currently, Louisiana has the highest number of daily cases per 100,000 (118), followed by Mississippi (84) and Florida (80).
Some experts now believe the U.S. will never reach herd immunity and that the virus will be with us indefinitely. Another concern is that future variants may spread beyond the lungs to the brain, the heart, or other organs. Is there anything we can do to stem the tide?
Masks: It’s Not a Question of Independence
While it’s true that wearing masks helps reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, some have adopted the belief that their independence is apparently more important than slowing the virus. Their argument is simple: the government cannot tell me what to do. However, federal and state governments mandates and laws are plentiful. The list includes seat belts, speed limits, air and water regulations, and numerous other items. All are designed to protect the general health and safety of the American public. Thus, the anti-government mask mandate argument is without foundation.
It’s important to understand that wearing a mask does not protect you from contracting the virus. It does, however, offer substantial protection to those around you. Regardless, not everyone sees it that way.
In May 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning mask mandates. This has become a contentious issue as schools begin the 2021-22 school year. If masks do help, why would the governor issue such an order? Is it just politics? When you think about the motto of the state, “You don’t mess with Texas,” it appears the governor is pandering to this independent spirit. Unfortunately for the governor, several of the largest school systems in the state, including those in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have defied his order and are requiring that students and faculty wear masks. Fortunately for the children, the courts have agreed, at least for now. The governor has vowed to fight the issue.
Another state, Florida, has a similar story. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to withhold the salaries of school officials who enact their own mask mandate. Arizona’s governor has also banned mask mandates. This anti-mask policy is a very common trend in red states.
While mask mandates may be easier to implement, there is some question about the viability of vaccine mandates. Even so, several companies have already adopted a vaccine mandate for their employees returning to work. Despite most medical and scientific experts who believe the vaccine is safe, there is resistance among some. These anti-vaxxers do share a few valid concerns. First, the long-term effects are unknown. And some people have had or have family members who have had a negative reaction to a previous vaccine. Nonetheless, here’s how the argument should be framed. Which is worse, the severity of the side effects of the vaccine, which are rare, or the severity of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2? Given the recent surge in new cases and deaths, many of those who chose not to get vaccinated are lining up for the shot.
A large portion of the population is weary over the lack of normal social interaction. At a recent school board meeting in Tennessee, a significant number of anti-mask protestors were gathered, yelling and threatening school board members over a mask mandate for students. None of them were wearing masks. Oh, the irony. How many of those folks will become infected? Experts say if you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s only a matter of time.
America has a long-standing history of freedom for its citizens. However, this isn’t a question of freedom as much as it is an issue of public safety. How many more people must die before we agree that Covid presents a clear and present danger? The longer this virus exists, the more it will mutate. The fear is that it will mutate beyond the scope of the existing vaccines.
Even though the economy is doing relatively well, it is doing so on the back of extreme government spending. If you take enough money from those who have it and give it to those who either won’t or can’t work, then yes, the economy will continue to expand. However, it’s been proven that excess government debt slows future economic growth (more on that in a future writing). Therefore, unless and until we get a handle on this coronavirus, the future for our children and grandchildren may not be so bright.
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