Could the World Have Avoided a Shutdown? Yes, Says Renowned Psychologist

April 17, 2020 Updated: April 17, 2020

Commentary

As I first pointed out in an essay I published on March 25 and as I reiterated a few days ago on Tucker Carlson’s show, there is only one way to quickly and safely reopen the economy, and that is by having everyone in the U.S. self-test and then having the virus carriers self-isolate.

On his show, Carlson called my idea, which has now been echoed by distinguished panelists at The Heritage Foundation, a “sensible solution,” and asked, “Why has it not occurred to anyone?”

Testing everyone might sound like a tall order, but we have both the technological and industrial capacity to achieve this ambitious goal in a matter of weeks, and universal testing is orders of magnitude cheaper than the trillions we’re bleeding by keeping our economy closed.

As for the possible challenges we’ll face when trying to keep a million or more virus carriers isolated, whatever those challenges prove to be, they are certainly less daunting than trying to keep our entire population in check. That’s why, of course, we now have more than 675,000 cases of COVID-19 here.

The half measures being pedaled by Joe Biden and others—more social distancing and a slow and cautious reopening of the economy—will just prolong the agony, with tens of thousands of Americans still sure to die in coming weeks, given even the most optimistic projections experts are currently offering.

The risks of reopening the economy with a million unidentified virus carriers roaming around have even given President Trump pause. Flipping the switch on the economy will, he said, be the “biggest decision” he has ever had to make.

The risk, of course, is in having the infection explode again. Even if we reopen the economy painfully slowly while trying to maintain social distancing, we still run the risk of a second wave of infections a few months from now. That possibility is even keeping China’s leaders up at night.

Producing hundreds of millions of cheap, disposable self-test devices—much like the pregnancy self-test devices one can buy at the dollar stores—is well within our capabilities (perhaps with some help from Chinese factories), and it solves two huge problems at once.

First, with carriers isolated, within a few weeks the virus disappears, killed off by people’s immune systems (and, unfortunately, in a small percentage of cases, the virus dies when it kills its host).

Second, universal testing allows us to reopen our entire economy immediately—no need for a painful 18-month phase-in—setting free more than 300 million Americans who are currently imprisoned in their homes. To make doubly sure that we’re not at risk, barrels full of those little self-test devices can be placed at the entrances to schools, restaurants, theaters, and businesses—and, of course, at our ports of entry. If you’re a carrier, you’re sent home or quarantined.

Those devices also protect us from a possible second wave. At the first sign of reinfection, we self-test and self-isolate, keeping the economy open. And, yes, if we had implemented universal testing weeks ago when the coronavirus first took hold in the United States, we would never have had to shut down the economy in the first place. We should keep this approach in mind for the epidemics and pandemics to come.

Today The Wall Street Journal reported on April 16 there were 4,591 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States over a 24-hour period ending at 8 p.m. Even though our contagion curve is supposed to be flattening, that is by far the largest single-day loss of life here since the pandemic began.

Perhaps worse still, a new study out of Harvard’s School of Public Health predicts that to control the spread of the virus in the United States, we might have to maintain social distancing restrictions until 2022, with a resurgence of the virus possible until 2024.

In many other countries around the world, COVID-19 epidemics are just beginning to explode, with alarming doubling rates in Somalia (1 day), Bangladesh (3 days), Myanmar (3 days), Sudan (4 days), Russia (5 days), and elsewhere.

With only half measures on the table, economic agony and a massive loss of life are assured worldwide for months or even years. Universal testing, on the other hand, has the potential to halt the spread of the virus and destroy it completely just weeks after testing devices have been widely distributed.

Under the U.S. Defense Production Act, President Trump has the power to implement universal testing immediately. If he takes the lead on this, his actions might well prove to be his legacy.

Robert Epstein is senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, in Vista, California. A Ph.D. of Harvard University, he is the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and the author of fifteen books.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.