Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics
newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
The staggering number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits underscores just how many are struggling financially due to the pandemic. While the economic damage from shuttering businesses and staying home is undeniable, public health experts worry that the pressure to reopen will end up driving the spread of COVID-19. Paul Solman reports on weighing the economic and safety risks.
The latest jobless claims underscore just how many people are struggling.
In fact, this video went viral showing hundreds of Kentucky residents waiting for up to eight hours yesterday seeking unemployment benefits. That kind of financial pressure is at the heart of why some states are reopening faster than others.
But some experts are worried about the spike in COVID cases in a number of those states.
Paul Solman has the story for our series Making Sense.
After three months of lockdown and the official onset of recession, the country is opening up. But case numbers are rising, officials alarmed.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
We have 22 states where the virus is increasing.
Judge Lina Hidalgo:
This week, the COVID-19 general hospital population in Harris County was the highest it has ever been.
Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo warns that Houston may need to turn a stadium into a hospital.
We may be approaching the precipice of a disaster.
So, should states lock down again, when so many health care workers still feel helpless and overwhelmed?
The volume is so much less, but the people that are left are so sick. I'm sick of this disease. The people on the floor are dying, and there's nothing that we can do.
The question comes back to, how much is a human life worth?
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
A human life is priceless, period.
There is, however, an argument on the other side: How much is it worth to save the economy?
This has been the biggest test I have ever had in my business.
Judi Townsend, whom I first interviewed seven years ago, runs a mannequin business in Oakland, California, selling models to small retailers. She's seen it all.
I started my business after 9/11 happened, and also I lasted through the whole breakdown we had of the economy in 2008. This is like all of that combined into one.
They say that you form a diamond under pressure. By the time this is over, I'm going to be the Hope Diamond, because there has been so much pressure in every aspect of my life.
How many Judi Townsends can afford another lockdown? How many millions of unemployed?
Locking everything down probably has done more harm than good..
Just consider, says preventive medicine specialist Dr. David Katz, the health costs of blanket lockdowns.
For segments of the population, shutting down the economy increases the risk of depression and desperation and addiction.
And, says economist Nick Bloom, you can measure the health costs.
There's an average of one year shorter life expectancy for a 40-year-old man if he gets laid off. So imagine you applied that to the 40 million jobs that have been lost over the last two months. You're looking at something like 40 million life years we have lost from the recession.
I am very sympathetic…
OK, but there's a rebuttal, as Dr. Ashish Jha told the "NewsHour" last week.
We know there's a huge health and psychological cost of the economic shutdown. The point here is, if we hadn't done that, we would have had 60 million more infections, probably a half-a-million more deaths.
Dr. Katz's response?
There's no question, if you lock everyone in place away from one another and the virus, nobody gets sick. It works as long as you keep doing it. The minute you release the clamps, you're in hot water.
Meanwhile, says Katz, not everyone is equally vulnerable.
Overwhelmingly, hospitalizations, ICU use, ventilator use, and death concentrated among people who were both old and with a significant burden of chronic disease.
In my home state of Connecticut, about 60 percent of the total COVID mortality is just among nursing home residents.
Economist Daron Acemoglu has studied the data.
If you look at the mortality rate of over-65-year-olds, it's about 60 times as high as the mortality rates of those between 20 and 50. Those over 75 have 100 times the rates of those in the younger age groups.
So, instead of blanket lockdowns, Acemoglu proposes targeted ones for seniors, like 75-year-old me.
So, the idea then is, lock me up.
Protect you. Protect you, we would prefer to say.
Fair enough. Protect me by quarantining me.
And let people like you and people younger than you go about their business.
Hi. I'm Max Brooks. I'm 47 years old.
Like this video Max made about protecting his dad, Mel.
Hi, dad. He's 93. If I get the coronavirus, I will probably be OK, but, if I give it to him, he could give it to Carl Reiner, who could give it to Dick Van Dyke. And, before I know it, I have wiped out a whole generation of comedic legends.
Acemoglu's answer would be: keep Mel, Carl and Dick behind glass.
I'm going, I'm going.
I actually posed this idea to a rotary club in Venice Beach, Florida.
Should we as a country have quarantined people like us, and let the rest of the country go about its business, so that the economy could function?
To me, it's a no-brainer. I think the answer is yes.
Jim Patterson and fellow seniors joined us on Zoom.
We would have been better off letting the economy go. I think we're going to be seeing the effects of this at least for a decade.
Yes, says Dave Lusty, but:
How many lives are you willing to trade off to keep the economy going?
Alanna Kirt agrees.
Look what's happening already in Florida since — in the last week. We have gone way back up. I mean, that — is it a part of the fact that everybody was done social distancing?
And it's not just seniors who need protection, says Mallory Lasorso.
I know a 40-year-old teacher who's had trouble breathing for months, and she is healthy.
Yes, says her 67-year-old father John Kearney, but he had to keep his moving and storage business open.
I have got guys that need to work. I need to work. I couldn't shut down. I would lose my business.
We have family and generational businesses that have failed. Stress, anxiety, drug, alcohol abuse has all went through the roof.
Garrett Soldano is an open-up-now activist. And he also has a reason besides economics for opposing lockdowns.
I don't feel that any governor should ever take away anybody's constitutional rights.
That's lockdown-enforcing Governor Gretchen Whitmer, vilified by don't-tread-on-me armed protesters with whom Soldano's group sympathizes.
Her tyrannical hammer being brought down on us was to do what initially? Flatten the curve. But as the weeks went on, that was being accomplished. So why did you continue to put down the hammer on your citizens?
Because the gradual reopening plan is working, says Governor Whitmer.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer:
This map shows that only Michigan and New York are currently on track to contain COVID-19.
And thus, in the end, a curious mix of lockdown skepticism, from economic liberty to economic tradeoffs.
To shut down countries and stop all economic activity, to lay millions of people off, to totally disrupt life as we knew it, the remedy does not match the threat.
To which nurse Margaret Cusumano would simply reply:
We can't be overconfident until we have some measure of being able to say it's in the past, because, if we let our guard down, we're not going to fight this. We're not going to be able to be successful.
This is Paul Solman, under targeted lockdown, self-imposed.
Watch the Full Episode
Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
Support Provided By: