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The Economy vs. Public Health Is a False Choice, We Can Reopen Safely Now

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the national unemployment rate fell to13.3 percent, down from 14.7 percent in April.

Yet this is no time for celebration. Over the past couple of months, over42 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. While the unemployment data indicates that some people returned from furloughs last month, unemployment rates for African-Americans and vulnerable groups continue to rise.


Countless small businesses are boarded up and bankrupt. Many have been forced to move from quarantines to curfews. According to one survey, one-third of them won't be able to reopen.

These Americans are the real faces of the COVID-19 shutdown. While the media relentlessly focuses on the plight of those who contract the disease, there are countless more COVID victims who never get sick. These are the people who suffer from economic, sociological, and health problems as a consequence of COVID shutdowns. To help them and reinvigorate the American economy, we must broadly reopen society now.

The more we learn about Covid-19, the more we understand that the disease poses less of a risk than first thought. The CDC recently revised its virus death rate to just 0.4 percent, roughly one-tenth of the rate that was used to justify shutdowns. 

Like most viruses, this disease takes a terrible toll on the vulnerable, but almost entirely spares younger and healthier individuals. To wit:Nearly half of all virus deaths have occurred in nursing homes. Over80 percent of deaths have occurred among those aged 65 years or above.

Now that we've flattened the curve, which shows no sign of rebounding in the wake of soft reopenings and mass protests, we can protect the most vulnerable while allowing everyone else to get back to work and getting the greatest economy in the world running at full steam again.


Unnecessarily keeping people out of work invites many ills beyond just joblessness. As Voltaire said, "Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.” The looting and rioting that have infected the peaceful protests over the killing of George Floyd are partially a result of so many young people being out of work. Their needs cannot be addressed when the economy is in shambles.

Most doctors would add one more "evil" to Voltaire's list: death. A 2011 meta-analysis of research from around the world found that the risk of death was 63 percent higher among those unemployed. A 2009 study that looked at the impact of the recession in Pennsylvania after the oil crash in the 1980s found that the risk of dying doubled in the year following job loss. 

Even families that have managed to keep their jobs and businesses through the shutdowns have faced the stress of their kids being out of school, not learning and building skills necessary to succeed in the new economy. Not to mention hanging around the house all day. Watch for a corresponding rise in divorces.

Community activists around the country are concerned about spiking domestic violence rates. Depression is running so rampant that there's a national shortage of Zoloft. 


These shutdown-induced diseases and conditions must be balanced against COVID deaths. We must not sacrifice our overall economic and societal health for COVID.

Fortunately, public health data reveals that this is a false choice. COVID poses little-to-no risk for the vast majority of people. We can have our economy and public health, too. 

Robert Campbell M.D. is the president of Central PA Anesthesia and a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.

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