By Barrett Seaman
There are those who see the COVID-19 pandemic in the darkest of terms. The eminent physicist who also worked for decades in epidemiology, Dr. Richard L. Garwin, now 92 and living in Scarsdale, predicts the effects will be “much worse than the Great Depression.” There is a small minority, including thoughtful residents of the rivertowns, who may not disagree with that conclusion but question whether it had to be this way.
In addition to noting the high rates of infection and death during both the SARS and H1N1 epidemics, when no comparably extreme measures were taken in the U.S., these skeptics contend that the failure to be prepared to do widespread testing and the related failure to concentrate extreme precautions on the most vulnerable citizens—seniors over 70 and those with compromised immune systems, left governments with few options beyond a broad brush suppression of economic and social activity.
“When I look at the available facts,” says retired attorney Pat Gilmartin of Irvington, “the damage being done to our economy and social interactions by the draconian steps now in vogue, the statistics about flu, and see that South Korea has managed to control the virus without bringing millions of its citizens to the brink of bankruptcy, and watch the Wall Street traders have a feast because of the volatility caused by the actions taken and/or contemplated, I find myself wishing for a Maggie Thatcher who could inspire – or order — the nation to keep calm and carry on.”
Wayne Olson, chairman of the Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian think tank formerly headquartered in Irvington, expresses a similar view: “There seem to be two approaches to the government’s response to the COVID-19 situation: One, the targeted approach where they do aggressive investigation to figure out who’s sick and then quarantine those people, and two, the brute-force approach where they say, let’s not do widespread testing, let’s quarantine everybody and bring the whole economy to a halt.”
There are epidemiological experts who would agree that isolating the most vulnerable, combined with widespread testing of everyone else, and then letting the disease essentially burn itself out would have been an effective strategy. But it is one for which the country was simply not prepared.