Opinion: Doctor's orders — Prioritize economic recovery
Michigan’s economy is gradually reopening, but we’re not out of the woods yet.
Although Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently scaled back her stay-at-home order, business activity remains restricted. Restaurants and bars are subject to capacity limits, while other businesses — such as indoor gyms and outdoor pools — are still barred from operating fully. All the while, Whitmer continues to sound the COVID-19 alarm bells, claiming “we must all continue to practice social distancing.”
Long story short, the “new normal” is worse than the old one. And that’s a problem.
I’m a doctor, so I understand the risks of the coronavirus better than most. My practice, which provides direct primary care to patients in need, has treated countless Michiganians who are suffering from the virus. Some patients have experienced severe symptoms. Let’s be clear: The coronavirus threat is real, especially for elderly populations.
To prioritize economic recovery is not to discount the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the contrary, medical professionals like myself must continue to lead the way in diagnosing and treating the coronavirus. Lives are at risk.
But we need to balance public health and economic activity — from business expansion to job creation. While I am a doctor, I am also a small business owner. I am an employer. I am a job creator.
Just like I sympathize with COVID-19 victims, I also sympathize with the employers and employees whose lives have been forever impacted by this pandemic. The coronavirus has produced more economic victims than anything else — many, many more.
At this point, the costs of delaying a full economic reopening outweigh the benefits. That’s because we have made significant progress. When Whitmer first implemented her stay-at-home order in March, the goal was to “flatten the curve,” giving our healthcare system the time needed to cope with an influx of new patients.
And we have done that. In Michigan, new COVID-19 cases and deaths are dropping. Our hospitals are not overrun. Indeed, many local hospitals are resuming elective surgeries — a telling sign of progress. At the same time, primary care providers like myself can take on new patients.
Shifting gears to the economy is now the next step. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan’s unemployment has topped 22%. Over 1.4 million people in our state have filed for unemployment benefits, while fewer than 6,000 people suffering from the coronavirus have died.
Every death is a tragedy, but we need to weigh the risks posed by the coronavirus with the risks of an economic shutdown. Right now, the scales are tipped too far in the direction of viral containment.
Remember: Every percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate is associated with about 37,000 deaths, due to heart attacks and other factors. Do the math, and skyrocketing unemployment in Michigan is linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths. That is the cost of an economic shutdown.
As the economy reopens, we need to continue focusing on the health care needs of Michigan’s at-risk populations, especially the elderly. With our help, these populations — and those in close contact with them — must continue to take any and all precautions to contain the spread of the coronavirus. This includes social distancing.
But the overwhelming majority of Michigan residents — who are not in grave danger — need to go back to work.
We can do both at the same time, protecting the vulnerable and jumpstarting the state economy. Countless lives depend on it.
Dr. Chad Savage is the founder of YourChoice Direct Care in Brighton and a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.