Pandemic response is not risk aversion

Updated 10/17/2020 8:15 AM

Occasionally, a conservative pundit or reporter, in order to play down the COVID-19 pandemic, compares it to other pandemics of the 20th century, claiming that their mortality rates were higher than the current pandemic even while the economy was functioning normally.

Michael Barone calls it "COVID risk aversion." While I agree that in many ways our society has become risk averse, that does not apply to this coronavirus.


This pandemic has been around for less than a year, while other 20th century pandemics lasted more than a year. The pandemics he refers to, the Asian flu 1957-58 and the 1968-70 Hong Kong flu, were far less severe. The Asian flu 1957-58 killed 70,000-116,000 Americans, while the current pandemic has already killed 216,990 Americans (as of Oct. 9) and has spread for only nine months -- it's just getting started. The Hong Kong flu lasted from 1968-70 and the total death toll was 34,00-110,000 Americans. COVID-19 is way past that in this country, even while the economy and citizens take the precautions recommended by medical experts.

Imagine if, going forward, we had a fully functioning economy and took no precautions -- no masks, no distancing, no economic shutdowns, kids in school as normal. How much faster would this virus spread and how many more lives would be lost? How much longer would we wait for the economy to get back on track?

If everyone in the U.S. takes the recommended precautions starting today, we will undoubtedly save lives, get the virus under control sooner, and our economy back to normal.

Maybe Barone considers the economy more important than saving lives, but I do not.

Katy Lovejoy

Arlington Heights

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