Like many of you, I am done listening to media conversations about Corona/COVID-19. I know now how it spreads. I know why it is a big deal to our health care system. I hear the numbers about how many deaths have been attributed to Corona. I have heard the pleas to socially distance to make the spread slow down. I want to look at what history teaches us about how we will respond. I present evidence using only history as my proof.
To begin, as part of being part of in a republic, people MUST ask the government MUST respond to the question, “how we are going to prevent this from happening again?” Pick the event-WWII, 911, etc, when there is an event that undermines our fundamental belief that we are safe and sound, we will do whatever is necessary to get back the feeling of being safe and sound.
And our projected response scares me the most. Let me explain using history as our guide.
At the end of WW1, nearly every British citizen was issued a gas mask. The pundits told the government, “If everyone who had been supporting the front lines had a gas mask, we would not have lost all those people to the Germans when they used mustard gas on us.” Mustard gas was a huge killer in WWI, and people needed to answer to the question, “how can we prevent such devastation from happening again. It was deemed the purchase of mass amounts of masks to be a reasonable response, despite the cost. Then, something historically remarkable happened; they never used those masks. Never. In fact, at the start of WWII, when British citizens were moving their children inland and out of the cities, there are pictures of women and children wearing gas masks, 22 years after they were issued to their ancestors. In fact, mustard gas has not been using on British soil in the last 100 years. But if mustard gas had been used, there are several tens of millions of gas masks out there, somewhere. Some argue that the British were still fighting the last war, even when they were in the middle of a different war, a common event in history.
As another example, lets’ look at the circumstances of the 9/11 attacks; US air traffic was closed for 48 hours1, and about 4000 were killed both during and after the attacks. A few aircraft were lost, and the net loss to the economy was $40B2. In the weeks, months and years following 911, the TSA was formed as a response, and the net cost of administering the TSA during the following 20 years has already exceeded the net loss by a factor of 500. That means for each dollar we lost on 911, we have spent 500 to prevent it from happening again. The New York Times authored a piece showing that the net lost to the economy in current dollars to be equal to one fifth of the total national debt.3
That organization designed to fight terrorism most makes its presence known in my home (and yours) by preventing us from entering an airport terminal because we left water in our water bottle or had too much toothpaste in our carry on. This security risk we have created justifies an army of 53,000 people working around the clock to prevent that from happening. For perspective sake, the employee count at the TSA is 12 times bigger than the number of people lost on 911. As a culture, we don’t care how much it costs (or hurts) to be safe. We will spend whatever it costs to be safe, on our own soil.
The American spirit to spend without shame in the name of safety shall be known to all before the end of 2020. I predict a similar response to Corona that is in line with our culture. Not only does history favor this, history supports the idea that safety transcends politics. To be succinct, we will have another disproportionate response to this event, no matter who gets elected president. And that response will be irrelevant as to whether or not we have a COVID equivalent event again.
For a sense of perspective, the recently legislated covid19 stimulus package has already voluntarily increased the national debt by 10%, and the media reports that our government is in discussions to spend that same amount again. More than 25,000 people’s deaths have been attributed to Corona, as tabulated by Johns Hopkins, and that number is speculated to have an additional zero added to the end of it before the counting is complete. The American perspective that our homeland is safe is eroded more than the 911 experience by many multiples.
I also conclude that our government’s “real” response to COVID19 has not yet started. Leaving our homes to go to the grocery store is no longer deemed safe, and evidence to the contrary bombs our peace of mind without interruption. You may feel safe wearing a mask and gloves when you buy food, but it isn’t normal in the USA to do this. Or is it, now?
It is inevitable that really smart people will inform the government that this pandemic was preventable had we only taken certain steps and implemented additional checks to mitigate the risk. If history is worth more than a hill of beans, I speculate that the US will mandate health care facilities stockpile the supplies that were unavailable during this pandemic. I also think it reasonable that new methods to control the spread before it starts will be part of every state and major city’s defense plan.
These costs will be passed through to taxpayers and those who use the healthcare systems as tens of thousands of ventilators, or the equivalent are purchased and possibly never used in each designated response locations. Just as millions of gas masks were stockpiled in homes after WWI and never used, we will have a similar series of events happen in the US.
And you thought health insurance premiums are high now? Oh, brother…
Above all things, one point from this pandemic shall forever be undisputable. Travelers brought this disease to our country, not health choices like those involved in food and exercise. There will not be any finger pointing at corporate greed nor government policy as the root cause. This virus entered our country, because we let citizens who carried the disease enter our country. We let freedom go too far. Alas, this bottom-line conclusion will be upheld at every level, and some constitutional bastions will stand up and scream, “this isn’t constitutional,” and reference article and clause to make their point. Alas, the constitution (or its interpretation) shall be changed in the same way we decided to impede upon free speech when we declared false advertising to be illegal.
We will now commence the act of spending a whole lotta of money to make it so ill citizens will find it much more difficult to expose their pathogens to the citizens of our country. Consider this last sentence to be a as close to a guarantee as there is one on planet earth.
Our behavior and willingness to take risk will continue their abrupt change. In the same sense that the American public feared airline travel after 911 for approximately 10 years, a large portion of America will only take ginger steps as they venture into a world with the risks of future pandemics as part of their everyday life. I do not speculate on the impact of social distancing nor how long it will last, but there will be repeated commentary on the wisdom of avoiding risky situations by health leaders and politicians.
What will the smart guys propose? I don’t know, but I imagine technology to screen travelers, both those coming and going, to see what risk the present to the American people. When I got off the plane from Spain in NYC last month, I was greeted by 3 CDC workers who took my temperature via an infrared scanning gun and took a health questionnaire from me before they let me into the USA. Expect more of that and expect there not to be an “opt out” of giving up health information to the new and improved TSA equivalent.
Government imposed travel restrictions and personal data gathering used to be considered a sign of a repressive government. Now, it shall be called “safe and smart.”
All western countries already think it fair to exchange manifest information on the international passengers. I can see a world where electronic and real time health data is exchanged with as much matter of factness as a passenger manifest. Indeed, I will be on it.
The new education of social distancing will not cease after Corona leaves our near-term memory. Our leaving salutations have already changed from “goodbye,” to “stay safe,” and “be healthy.” We are culturally different now. And by this time next year, I fully anticipate a new government division (or an expanded one) in the business of stopping the next COVID-19 outbreak. Just like the loss of life created after WWII and 911 created new government divisions, expect something here.
Yes, this makes me sad. My traveling freedom shall be taken from me, especially if I am found to be ill. Can’t we also claim that this is to be expected, as the world’s population expands and events like COVID happen?
International tourism is over or just heavily reduced? Some commentators don’t see any kind of full back-to-normal without a tested, distributed vaccine in place, and by that time, who knows what businesses have failed and how other sectors that we depend on can function with reduced demand (and economies of scale reduced).
Thanks for the comment! I don’t see a world where we snap our fingers and everyone goes back to “trusting” travel, or travellers. I see a world in which testing becomes as common place as hand washing, and countries and tourist destinations begin to regulate traffic on recent health test scores. Say it ain’t so.