How Soon We Recover Depends Upon Us

Great InfluenzaAs we move into Phase 3 of the “Restore Illinois” plan tomorrow, there are a few things that need to be said.

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None of us are happy about the pace at which life is returning to “normal”. We all want to enjoy the warmer weather and do the things that define summertime for us. We’ve seen surrounding states loosen their restrictions on businesses and social activities and chafe at the notion that we’re still where we are. I get that. I’ve been as adamant as anyone in calling for a loosening of restrictions on public activity and to go to a more regional approach to opening up our economy.

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But there’s something that we all need to understand. Moving to Phase 3 is not a license to let the good times roll. I’m reading “The Great Influenza”, the classic narrative of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic that swept the world toward the end of World War I, killing over 100 million people, and that narrative is chilling.

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The influenza came in three waves, the first being a mild form of flu that most people took in stride. However, in a matter of a few months, the virus mutated into such a lethal form that the second wave caused thousands to fall ill daily. The influenza virus is very adept at changing its form within a few generations, gaining lethality as it does. There’s no reason to think that this one is any different.

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I’m not saying this as a prediction that what we’re now experiencing will be followed by a much more deadly strain in the fall. What I am saying is that neither I nor anyone else knows what is coming. But if we see in the fall what the world saw in 1918, we have very little with which to fight it.

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That’s because, short of developing a vaccine in the near future, we’ve shot the only arrow we had in our quiver. By shutting down the entire economy, our schools, elective surgeries and all the rest, we’ve put ourselves into a position where, if this virus comes back with a vengeance, it’s going to be very difficult to institute a second shutdown without resorting to the kind of enforcement mechanisms that none of us want. Not only would people accuse the government of crying wolf, but an economy which would just be starting to climb back would be thrown back onto the mat.

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The people who’ve been standing on the front lines of this pandemic, our first responders, doctors and nurses and technicians in our ICU’s, grocery clerks and truck drivers all deserve our thanks. But they deserve something else, as well. They need to know that we’re going to be sensible to the continuing threat that a resurgence of this virus can bring if we aren’t careful about how we exercise the responsibility we have to our families, to them and to each other.

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That begins by taking the lessons we’ve learned about how to bend the curve of this disease downward and continuing to do so, even as we move into a more open economy. There isn’t one of us who wants to move back into shutdown and the chaos that goes along with it. Exercising sensible precautions is a tradeoff we should be willing to accept, because if we have to go backwards, it’s going to be a lot worse.

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