H. L. Mencken famously wrote that, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong”. That serves as a warning to anyone who thinks they have come up with a solution to a problem that has defied the best efforts of experts in the field. I come across such ‘solutions’ all the time from people who think they have solved a complex problem in physics. These are usually those who have done just a smattering of reading in that field,
So it is with some trepidation that I am proposing a solution to the current pandemic which is seeing a resurgence in the US. The idea is based on one of the things we know about the virus, which is that it cannot live for more than two weeks outside a living host, which is why are requiring people to quarantine for two weeks if they have come into contact with someone who may have had the virus. If they have not shown symptoms by then, we think they are not carriers. So if we could isolate everyone for two weeks, and send to hospital only those who develop signs of having the virus during that period, that should make sure that all the rest are not carriers.
What could be done is to set in advance a two-week period in which the entire nation would self-quarantine in their homes with just their family members and not go outside at all, for any reason whatsoever. Everything, and I mean everything, would shut down. By announcing the two-week period in advance, people could stock up supplies for that period. If some emergency came up such as requiring some medication or some infant needs which are things that are hard to predict, people could call an emergency number and emergency personnel would drop off the stuff at your door.
This would work for those societies that have access to electricity and refrigeration and phones. For those societies that do not have widespread access to those things, they could do what Sri Lanka did when it imposed a total nationwide curfew that lasted for about two weeks. They had trucks travel to all parts of the country providing supplies to people where they lived. Even in the US, there are many people who may not have the savings to stock up on two weeks’ worth of supplies so they will have to be given sufficient funds to do so.
The cost of a total shut down of the economy for two weeks would not be trivial but surely would be less than the ad hoc, on-and-off patchwork shutdowns that we have had and are likely to have again. The uncertainty is a large part of the problem of gaining public acceptance. If people know that they will be restricted for a definite and limited time, they are more likely to go along with it than when faced with an unknown duration. Also panic buying and hoarding are less likely to be problems if people know they only need to get along for two weeks.
I think Italy and South Korea did some version of this national action, and China did so for the Wuhan region, and they all achieved considerable success. If the two-week shutdown could be done on a global scale, that would be even better.
I am sure that this blog’s readers will point out why Mencken’s aphorism applies to my proposed solution. But even if this solution were feasible, the biggest obstacle to its implementation is the fact that the US has an idiot president who thinks that bluster and bravado is the best way to fight a virus and that a targeted plan of action is a sign of weakness.