Contemplating the Pros and Cons of Shutting Things Down

I find myself at this strange sort of emotional impasse. I consider the “social distancing” policies being used to slow down covid-19 infection rates and the 50 or fewer people gathered in one location rule. This is now down to around 10 people. Yet here I sit, surrounded by 1,000 or so. Any hundred or so are within 5 feet of two others at all times. Some are old, some are pregnant, some have small children. They’re all touching the same product as it moves from one station to the next. Any one person could easily expose dozens “downstream.”

Meanwhile, with schools halted and the university system moving to online-only for the remainder of the semester, the primary routes of infection are me and my wife. Since she works for the school system her exposure is limited to trips to the not-very-crowded gym, leaving me as the most likely vector of transmission into the home. I was already an avid handwasher and my interaction with others in a physical contact sense is limited, but I’m not exactly comfortable with this thought.

On the other hand, my internal economist is upset. Every canceled event brings a sigh and every business shut down is followed with a wince. There is a price to be paid for these sorts of things. Every one of those is not just a blow to the infamous GDP, but directly impacts workers in related industries. All those hotel stays canceled, meals unordered, taxis untaken. Those workers relied on that activity and macroeconomic costs aside, the human cost seems… immense. Even in my case, I’m already shouldering the burden of buying extra food for children that normally eat at school with one less income than I had previously. The idea of finding a way to make ends meet on my unemployment benefits, about half my normal weekly income, is… concerning. Especially considering how slow that system is. I can expect at least one week with no pay at all, possibly more if the system is suddenly flooded with requests.

On the other hand, it’s not fair to place the fiscal needs of any group or individual above the health of another. Human life is irreplaceable. If I could know that shutting down anything would save someone’s life I’d do my best to be out the door.

Of course, this isn’t really news to anyone at this point. It reminds me of 2008, but instead of coming out of nowhere we all know it’s coming and we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

For all that terror, though, and the pros and cons of stopping production v. running (there is no right answer), our giant ball of hot gas will continue illuminating the world tomorrow.

That’s probably my single most favorite panel from the series. I actually have a small copy printed out and keep it on my desk. The whole situation blows, worldwide, and we may as well do our best to remember that the bad times will not last. We as a species have weathered worse and survived to tell the tale.

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