Millions of people are on lockdown all over the world. The debate is raging about whether this is the right strategy to fight COVID-19, but we need to reframe the perspective. We aren’t fighting COVID-19 with mass lockdowns, or we are fighting the mass uncertainty about coronavirus and buying time to figure it out.
This virus feels like a shapeshifter, every time it seems like we know the symptoms we realize that there are more or they can be different in different people. Every time there seems to be a treatment, when put to the test it shows questionable efficacy. In the early stages all we wanted were more ventilators, now it seems like ventilators may do more harm than good. It will take weeks or month before we really understand.
Probably the scariest part, and what sets COVID-19 apart from other pandemics is the long latency period between the contraction of the virus and getting symptoms and the fact that many people get no symptoms at all but are contagious and spread the disease. The responses of governments and the recommendations of health professionals will become more clear with time, we will learn if hot weather can stop the spread, we will have more tests, we will have better treatment. This will all eventually happen.
In the meantime, people argue about lockdowns and social distancing. It’s understandable because it’s hard on individuals and the economy. It is also incredibly different from the way we have handled outbreaks in the past. Mass lockdowns are needed now because we aren’t in a typical quarantine, usually, we can isolate the people who are sick- but with COVID-19 we don’t always know who is sick so we need to lock down everyone. There are too many asymptomatic people who become super spreaders.
Our plans, the decisions by our governments, the flattening of the curve is so that we can have the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. With the lockdowns, we are essentially treating uncertainty and not the disease.
When we argue to open the doors and let people out, we need to base it on our levels of certainty, not on our desire to get life back to normal. We need to answer the most important questions about how the virus works, and how to stop the spread. We still don’t know if infection brings immunity, and that might be the single most important question that must be answered.
Dealing with uncertainty is incredibly stressful, especially as it seems that the massive lockdowns are hurting the economy as a whole and it is taking a toll on individuals and families.
Lockdowns buy us time, that is it. It’s not the solution and it’s not the cure, but it’s what we need to do in the meantime. Those who argue against them might be correct, we might not need them. They also might be terribly wrong, and if they are then the results are catastrophic.
If we’re lucky we won’t be locked inside until a vaccine is developed, as some suggest. But we need to be patient, we need to accept that we are in the stage of uncertainty and we need to commit to getting through this time so that we can move to the next stage where we understand the virus, and from there we can make an informed plan on how to properly manage it.