To flatten the coronavirus curve, we need to understand the virus better

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The mantra of “flattening the curve,” or reducing the rate of the coronavirus’s spread through social distancing, has dominated our political dialogue over the last several weeks. But there’s more to a successful coronavirus response than simply this alone.

At some point, we will need to start pivoting toward restarting the engine of the economy. That means that we need to think about what it will be like to emerge from isolation, and those thoughts aren’t exactly comforting. The virus will still be around, people will still be in the hospital, and people that are at risk now will still be at risk when it is time to go back to work.

In some ways, that sounds scary, but we face dangers every day with or without the virus.

There are different ways to approach thinking about the emergence. We could come out of isolation now, before the peak has been reached. This would purposely spike the curve and therefore the number of those infected and put the virus in our rearview mirror faster. However, this solution also comes with some severe downsides, mainly because the healthcare system will be overrun.

This is what’s happening in Italy to disastrous results. Italy has a higher death rate per million people than anyone would have projected.

Alternatively, we could also wait to restart our economy in full swing until the virus is completely gone. That might mean many months, several years, or never, if it turns out to be a seasonal disease. The fatality rate in this scenario might be even higher, as unemployment is already spiking, and we are just starting to get numbers back from the effects of this virus.

So, too, there are middle-ground solutions. We could wait for a vaccine, implement rolling closures, or wait for the curve of those infected to subside.

The answer is that we don’t know which one of these is the right solution. And that actually points us to the correct solution. We need to know more about the novel coronavirus: We need to know how transmittable it is, how to treat it, how not to treat it, and who is more susceptible to the virus.

The answer is science. The answer is almost always science. As we know more about our world, we can make better decisions.

And, thankfully, we have a great scientific community. We have a strong research community. We are an innovative country. Almost immediately when the virus hit, individuals and companies started innovating. We have seen the pharmaceutical industry jump in and start research, not just on new drugs, but on how to leverage current drugs as possible treatment options.

While the coronavirus crisis is indeed spiraling in places such as New York City, so is our understanding of this virus. The more we know and the faster that we know it, the better our healthcare system will get at dealing with the disease.

All of this means that we need to start getting mentally ready for coming out of isolation and back to work. We can’t just throw in the towel and sit at home and wait for the food to run out. Fortunately, the economy was in a strong place before the virus hit, and, hopefully, we will get back there quickly after we restart our lives.

We also have to be ready to start back up in a different place. Maybe this means more working from home. Maybe we rely more on telemedicine. Maybe the start-up is slow, but we need to be ready to emerge and start the economy back up.

We are a strong country. We have seen companies such as Amazon understand their role and actually ramp up hiring. Meanwhile, schools have quickly transitioned over to online learning, and grocery stores have been stocking shelves constantly, also making accommodations for those most at risk. And communities have rallied behind those most at risk.

I don’t know whether the president’s call for trying to get back to work by April 15 is going to be realized, but, given our ability to innovate, our research community, and our ability to rapidly ramp up scientific research, I am confident that we will have the information that we need sooner rather than later.

We can’t stop the curve. But we can better understand the coronavirus and make the right decisions as a result.

Charles Sauer (@CharlesSauer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is president of the Market Institute and previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor, and for an academic think tank.

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