A New York Doctor's Antidote to Fear of COVID-19

Originally published here at Real Clear Politics on April 1, 2020.

On Sunday, a friend forwarded me a link to a video made by a New York doctor, David Price.  I encourage everyone to watch the video.  From his front-line experience in the nation’s coronavirus hot spot, Dr. Price gives us sound advice, makes the disease a little less scary, and gives us hope by empowering us. He helps put things into perspective as we weigh the human costs of the disease and our response. 

What makes the video so powerful is that Dr. Price is one of the heroes treating COVID-19 patients almost exclusively, and he’s not scared.  Instead, he’s confident he will not catch the disease because he knows how to prevent it.     

Price’s advice: COVID-19 is transmitted primarily from the hands to the face.  So be aware of your hands at all times. Keep them clean by washing often and using hand sanitizer. DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE.  If you’re sick or vulnerable, isolate yourself.  In order to prevent overwhelming our health care system, go to the hospital only if you’re short of breath.  Maintain social distancing.  Feel free to use a face mask, primarily to train yourself NOT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE. But aerosolized transmission is far less common, so you don’t need an N95 face mask. Reserve those for front-line health care workers.  

The reason I am highlighting Dr. Price’s video is because it is important that we don’t become gripped with fear or allow panic to sweep our society.  No one wants to underreact, but there are substantial short-term and long-term costs to overreacting.  

Last Friday, President Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to help workers, provide needed liquidity to businesses, and support health care and cures. This is in addition to two previous emergency spending bills totaling more than $112 billion.  This financial cost is enormous, but we must also recognize the potential human toll of economic destruction.     

Last year, approximately 48,000 Americans committed suicide and an estimated 67,000 died of a drug overdose.  That level of individual despair occurred in a strong economy with near record-low levels of unemployment in virtually every demographic. Imagine the human toll if we shut down the economy indefinitely and unemployment reaches 30% or higher, as the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank now predicts.  

The president, his team, governors, and other public officials throughout America are having to make tough decisions with incomplete information. It’s impossible for them to get it just right. They have the best of intentions, and they deserve our support. There will be plenty of time later for the necessary oversight of what went right, what went wrong, and why — even though we were adequately forewarned — we weren’t better prepared. 

For now, all of us as individual citizens need to do our part. That starts with taking our situation dead seriously and following Dr. Price’s good advice to do everything we can to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19.  We don’t have to shut down our entire economy to accomplish that.  In fact, it is essential that we keep as much of it open and operating as we can.  

It is entirely appropriate that we identify nonessential businesses that pose a risk of spreading COVID-19, and keep them closed until this passes.  Congress passed the CARES Act to help ensure that workers and their employers get the financial support they need to survive so that business can eventually reopen and their employees get back to work. 

But does anyone doubt that hospitals and grocers need to remain open? And if they do, all the businesses that support hospitals and grocers must continue to operate.  Consider the entire supply chain for just those two vital businesses: You start to comprehend that most of the American economy is essential and must remain open.  Agriculture and food processors, drug and medical supply manufacturers, packaging and packaging material suppliers, warehousing and distribution businesses, trucking, gas stations, oil drilling and refining — the list goes on and on. The good news is that if a front-line doctor is confident that by practicing good personal hygiene and proper social distancing he won’t catch COVID-19, we should be safer if we follow those guidelines as well. 

We are all watching in horror the awful and mounting toll of COVID-19.  But we are also inspired by the quiet and resolute heroism of first responders and front-line health care workers like Dr. Price.   

We should also greatly appreciate every American who continues to go to work each day, despite the risk, to make sure our society can continue to function at the level we now so urgently need.  As long as many Americans exhibit this kind of courage in dealing with the coronavirus, we can be confident that we will get through this together and united.