Covid-19 and Unintended Side Effects

Like everyone else I am coping with the shock and uncertainty brought about by the governmental response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  I of course applaud efforts to slow and contain the virus, but I am starting to wonder if we have thought things through.

While I understand the need to save lives by fighting the virus, if our goal is to save lives generally, then perhaps we should consider the possible side effects of what is happening.

There is a relatively new phrase in the lexicon, which is “deaths of despair”  (sometimes called diseases of despair).   With that in mind, I am starting to wonder about the cost/benefit of the current Covid 19 responses.

Shutting down so many businesses is bound to have the net result of someone somewhere losing their job, and, if they have any savings, going through them.  Economic impotence is a major cause of deaths of despair.  How many people will experience a personal financial meltdown in the coming months?  And how many will decide that the solution is to end it all?  I realize 1.6 million deaths from Covid 19 is a lot, but we are already seeing 150,000 deaths of despair every year.  As Gerald Weinberg is fond of saying, “There’s always a trade-off.”

The other downside of all this sheltering in place will, I hope, be obvious– people can die of loneliness-based despair.  I have a friend whose dementia- ridden father is living in a facility and, she is not allowed to visit him– and there is “social distancing” going on, which means he is living without any significant human touch contact with his fellow residents.

In the post-crash-of-2008 economic apocalypse, I was one of many over-50 white males who saw all expectations of success and/or hope for the future melt into nothing.  While I like to doubt I ever would have done it, my response to  my situation often included thoughts of suicide as one of my alternatives for how to proceed if things got worse than “x.”.

Looming economic disaster and social/physical/emotional isolation . . .  how many deaths will this cause?  I have to ask, will this cure be worse than the disease?




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