As this column was being written, the state of Alabama was under a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Kay Ivey at the beginning of April. Although this order was necessary and proper at the time it was made, continuing it would be counter-productive and harmful to the state.
The purpose of this societal policy of isolation and quarantine is to achieve the objective of “flattening the curve.” Essentially, this isolation, self- and government-imposed, is to slow the spread of the infection of COVID-19, so the federal and state governments have time to prepare for and anticipate incoming patients with this infection. The purpose of this isolation is not to avoid the infection altogether. When dealing with a contagion that is extremely transmissive, there is a large chance that the majority of the population will be infected, regardless of how long we self-isolate.
Keeping this in mind, Alabama should begin loosening restrictions in May. These should be gradual, and of course reversible, should new information present itself that the time is not right. However, the stay at home order must not be extended. Yes, people will undoubtedly be infected once these restrictions are lifted, but that was always inevitable. What will be different by May is our governments will be able to handle the surge of cases. We have already seen this in New York, where the state has reported that despite having more than 200,000 cases, there has not been a shortage of intensive care units, ventilators, or beds on a mass scale. In comparison, the state of Alabama has less than 5,000 cases.
Private sectors have been ramping up the production of critical medical tools and supplies to fill in for federal government shortcomings. According to President Trump, equipment that was in short supply a month ago no longer is. The state government must recognize these facts and slowly begin to roll back restrictions.
To not ease the restrictions would be harmful for two reasons. The first being herd immunity must be established at some point. If there is a gradual regulatory loosening, a larger and larger portion of the population, ideally the young and healthy, will be exposed and establish immunity to the virus, as in many cases, infection is asymptomatic. When this happens, the individual is infected and recovers without experiencing anything. This immunity would then make larger and larger numbers of the population immune to the infection. By extending restrictions, governments are delaying this process, thus endangering lives down the road.
The other reason is isolation would do nothing to mitigate the economic disaster this country is experiencing. Some economists are predicting a negative 40% growth in this economic quarter, and unemployment numbers have been continuously increasing for weeks. People need to get back to work soon, and forcing everyone to stay at home is not going to fix this problem. This sort of economic hemorrhaging cannot be sustained, and extending the stay at home order would do just that.