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Illustration by M. Scott Byers

Let’s defeat the coronavirus with the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’

Health professionals have told us what needs to be done. We must do more and do it faster.

This article originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman. Reprinted with permission. 

In a perfect world, Texas and the nation would have been far better prepared for a pandemic most experts acknowledged was inevitable. We are not in a perfect world, though.

All of us are weighing what steps should have been — or should be — taken by the various levels of government to overcome the coronavirus and prepare the economy for as quick a recovery as possible.

Many health professionals and regular folk agree that the faster we move on the coronavirus, the more protected we will be and the faster our economy will recover. One analysis showed Texas can avoid overloading its healthcare system by taking dramatic steps now. And, there’s not much time to spare.

Many local officials have ordered the critically necessary actions, including city- and county-wide stay-at-home orders to deny the virus the human-to-human contacts it needs to spread. At this writing, Gov. Greg Abbott has not ordered stay-at-home statewide.

Using his emergency powers, Abbott has suspended regulations to let student and retired nurses into the healthcare work force, loosened regulations on hospital capacity and pharmacy operations, and taken other steps.

Some conservatives suggest that we “cannot let the cure be worse than the problem,” as President Donald Trump put it. By that they mean don’t let the risk of disease harm the economy.

This might make you wonder what they see as “the problem.” Is it the virus? Or, is it the 2.5 percent of the population that could die from the virus if steps are not taken to protect them? What, or who, are Trump and his allies willing to sacrifice?

When it comes to Americans, the answer should be, “None.”

We should begin our efforts with what we might call the “Dunkirk Spirit,” a term applied to the solidarity and strength of the servicemen and fishermen who risked their lives to rescue hundreds of thousands of soldiers trapped in Dunkirk in 1940.

That is to say, we focus relentlessly on saving everyone who can be saved. That is the spirit that should guide our efforts. We cannot begin by measuring a life against a dollar. To be sure, a lack of resources and the fact that no human has a natural immunity to the coronavirus will take lives.

The coronavirus will not defeat us. But it could diminish our collective moral standing if we are too casual in our necessary efforts to protect our economy while shrugging off the loss of American lives as unavoidable, if unfortunate.

An economic recession or depression also puts lives at risk. We have to see through the eyes of those suffering from job losses or business shutdowns, too. They are among the lives and livelihoods at risk.

We must do more and do it faster. Health professionals have told us what needs to be done. Trying to finesse the response will only prolong the agony. The faster we “flatten the curve,” as they say, the quicker the economy will recover.

So, it’s the Dunkirk Spirit then. We all move together, in solidarity, to first save our fellow citizens and rescue all from the slowed economy.