I am a student in the Open Doors High School Program working towards my AAS-T in health Sciences. I am thinking about going into public health afterwards, which is where my idea for the topic of this paper came from. With COVID-19 at its peak and plenty of high-emotion debates surrounding the regulations that governments have enforced, I thought there was no better subject to write about.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, and the government does not know how to handle it. This paper will look into why the government should be imposing strict regulations by looking at the people who are affected. Looking at multiple statistics, studies, and papers written by experts that address the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the health of the people and the health of the economy, the conclusion can be drawn that when strict regulations are put into place, the net impact on the citizens is positive and these regulations should be put into place all over the country.
Keywords: COVID-19, regulations, government regulations, economy, pandemic
Strict Government Regulations for COVID-19 Lead to a Positive Result for the Citizens
The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has created a large-scale debate in the United States surrounding the strictness of the government’s regulations. Some argue that strict regulations are an attack on personal freedom and the American economy while the other side wants to slow the spread of the virus and save thousands of lives. In states where strict regulations have been put into place, there has been a positive impact on the citizens. Whether it comes nationally or state by state, America needs to impose strict regulations to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of its people despite the potential negative effects they may bring.
COVID-19 Negative Health Effects
COVID-19 is a major threat to the health of humans. The virus started out in China and grew into an epidemic all the way into a pandemic while killing an unimaginable amount of people and negatively affecting even more. COVID-19 is not something to be taken lightly; as of early December 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 dashboard, there has been a little over 1.5 million deaths worldwide. That goes along with over 67 million total cases. In the United States alone there has been almost 15 million cases and rapidly approaching 300,000 deaths. Some people believe that these deaths are exaggerated because people who die from the disease may already have underlying conditions that would have killed them anyway, but there is a statistic called excess deaths that can prove that the virus is killing an amount of people that is well above what it should be. The CDC (2020) defines excess deaths as “number of persons who have died from all causes, in excess of the expected number of deaths for a given place and time” (para. 4). Looking at these numbers will prove just how much of a threat the virus is to killing a large amount of people. The CDC (2020) gives the stats as: “…from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19” (para. 2). So, almost 200,000 more people died over a nine-month stretch than expected due to COVID-19. These numbers are just for the United States, not worldwide. Another way that people try to discredit the total number of deaths COVID-19 has caused is by claiming that the national death statistics are intentionally raised by including deaths where COVID-19 is not listed on the death certificate as the primary cause of death. But, just because the primary cause of death that is listed was not COVID-19 does not mean it did not cause that person to die. When someone has their death certificate filled out, the medical professional who does it will list all of the causes that person had. According to the CDC (2020), a large percentage of people, 94%, who die due to the virus have other causes that lead to their death listed. (para. 6) When those people contract the virus, the underlying conditions they have are caused to act up in a more intense way, or new conditions, such as pneumonia are formed. These conditions are ultimately what leads them to die. Since the other condition that they have is the what causes them to die, that is listed as the primary cause of death; but COVID-19 is still listed as a cause of death because if the person did not contract the virus, their condition would not have been worsened or even formed at all and they may still be alive.
COVID-19 is not actually the name of the virus itself, but the illness it causes. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus. This is a new strand of coronavirus, which is the reason that scientists have not had a big pool of information to work with from the start and have had to scramble to do research and find out more about it. The main symptoms that people show when they have the virus are a dry cough, fever, a loss of taste and smell, as well as a few others. According to Sabrina Richards (2020), “Where a virus replicates can dictate the infection’s symptoms” (para. 10). So, the virus can cause different symptoms in people, and it depends on where it replicates inside the body to determine which of the symptoms show up in the person who contracted the virus. This, Richards says, is a reason that the virus has spread so quickly, “Current studies show that it also replicates in the nasal passages and upper airway, which may help it transmit more easily than other lower respiratory tract infections” (para. 10). The fact that it replicates in the nasal passages and the upper airways causes it to spread quickly because that causes it to get in the saliva, which as many studies have shown is the biggest cause of the spread; people talking, coughing, sneezing, and any other way for their saliva to be projected out and make contact with another person. This is why the top medical professionals have been advising from the start of the pandemic for everyone to wear facemasks and practice social distancing. The science says if people adhere to those two guidelines, it will help slow the spread of the virus.
Government Regulations Slow the Spread of COVID-19
In the United States, there has been limited regulations put into place nationwide and instead it has been put onto the individual states to decide how to fight against the virus. In states that have been enacting strict regulations there has been a positive response in their COVID-19 contraction and death rates. Some of the regulations that states have put in include required face coverings, only essential businesses staying open, no or only small social gatherings, and required sanitation requirements for businesses that do stay open. The CDC (2020) conducted a report to confirm the effectiveness of these regulations to slow the spread of the virus and summarized their report by saying, “The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona stabilized and then decreased after sustained implementation and enforcement of statewide and locally enhanced mitigation measures, beginning approximately 2 weeks after implementation and enforcement of mask mandates and enhanced sanitations practices began on June 17; further decreases were observed during July 13–August 7, after statewide limitations and closures of certain services and businesses” (para. 2). This study was effective at proving that there is at least a correlation between regulations put into place by governments and a decrease in the spread of COVID-19. Tannista Banerjee and Arnab Nayak (2020) conducted a study to analyze the effects that working from home and social distancing can have on the spread of COVID-19 and concluded that, “As people stay at home it can reduce the spread of the virus by 49% after two weeks of the social distancing decision, and as people start working full-time it increases the spread of the virus by 84% within two weeks” (para. 25). This study once again showed strong correlation between measures that the government can and have put into place and a decline in COVID-19 cases. In an article for the New York Times,Lauren Leatherby and Rich Harris (2020) used data originating in an index from Oxford that measured the strictness of individual state’s containment measures and matched it up against the average cases per 100,00 people from each state and they found that the spread of the virus was noticeably smaller in the states where there were stricter containment measures. (para. 3) This study was perhaps the most telling in terms of being able to find a strong correlation between government response and virus spread.
With the data from many different studies pointing to strict regulations slowing the spread of COVID-19, state governments should not hesitate to implement them to protect the health of the people. The government needs to be strict with, and enforce, their regulations because only giving suggestions and small guidelines is not enough. Data from both the CDC study done in Arizona and the article by Leatherby and Harris showed spikes in cases in states that weakened their regulations after the original implementation of those regulations. Although there are people who will be protecting themselves and others by adhering to guidelines, if there are no regulations then there is a chance that a large amount of people will instead ignore those guidelines and put themselves and others around them at risk. Governments need to be sure of themselves when they make these decisions and continue to not only enact them and not be too quick in repealing them, but they also need to be strong in enforcing them.
United States Government Putting Safety Over Personal Freedom
One stance that people take to argue against the implementation of government regulations, like wearing a mask, is that it goes against their personal freedoms. But wearing a mask is hardly an attack on personal freedom but more a minor inconvenience. To most people, protecting yourself and those around you from a potentially fatal virus should be more important than being slightly inconvenienced. It is the same reason you can get a ticket for being on your cell phone while driving: you are being a potential danger to another person. Regulations as strict as stay-at-home orders are a bigger step towards encroaching on personal freedom; but when the country is faced with a pandemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people, the government should be able to step in and do what is best for the physical health of its people. They do have the power to impose regulations in the face of a public health crisis, as the Supreme Court has ruled before. If there is a real connection between the rules that they impose and the public health crisis, they are able to put in rules such as stay-at-home orders.
Effect of Regulations on the Economy
There is no doubt that during this pandemic there has been a major dent in the health of the economy, but if the United States governments were to be decisive in implementing strict regulations and sticking to them while having a plan for economic recovery, the benefits of strict regulations far outweigh the harm. When the governments decide to shut down “non-essential” businesses and enforce stay-at-home orders, the impact on the economy is seemingly clear: many people are out of a job and there are less people going out and spending money. But that is not something that is necessarily all thanks to the regulations put into place by the government. Austan Goolsbee and Chad Syverson (2020) wrote a paper that analyzed whether most of the economic downswing was caused by the regulations or if it was actually caused by the people’s fear of the virus itself. They concluded that “While overall consumer traffic fell by 60 percentage points, legal restrictions explain only 7 percentage points of this. Individual choices were far more important and seem tied to fears of infection” (para 1). This study shows that even if the government decided not to impose strict regulations, there would still be a major economic decline due to people’s reluctance of going out and potentially catching the virus.
A negative economic turn is guaranteed as a result of a pandemic such as this, but there is some evidence that shows government decisions, even when implementing regulations, can actually have a positive effect on the economy. Badar Nadeem Ashraf (2020) wrote a paper to look at the impact that the regulations had on the stock market. Although he did conclude that government regulations had a “direct negative effect” on the stock market (para 1), he also found that “Government announcements regarding public awareness programs, testing and quarantining policies, and income support packages largely result in positive market returns” (para 38). Although the government regulations will slow the economic flow, when they have a plan for supporting the economy while in potential lockdown, it will keep people from panicking and impact the stock market in a positive manner.
What can be concluded about strict government regulations regarding the economy is that there will be some short-term harm, but with a solid plan leading in to it, the government can minimize that harm and come out on the other side just fine, with an even better outlook than if they did nothing. Thunström et al. (2020) administered a study to look at the effects of social distancing regulations on the economy. What they concluded was a long-term economic advantage from social distancing that amounted to 5.16 trillion dollars (para. 16) They found that number by analyzing the benefit of lives saved versus the harm to the GDP.
The debate in the United States surrounding government regulations regarding COVID-19 is hotly contested with a lot of strong opinions. The virus is undoubtedly a major health risk to the people. When you look at the evidence supporting the effectiveness of strict government regulations, it is clear that these steps must be taken to ensure the health of the American citizens. Although there will be short-term negative effects on the economy, if the government has a well thought out plan, they can minimize that damage and even have a positive effect in the long-term. The health and lives of the many must be a priority over the inconvenience of the few and the short-term hurt of the economy.
Ashraf B. N. (2020). Economic impact of government interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic: International evidence from financial markets. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance, 27(100371). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7323651/#b30
Banerjee, T., & Nayak, A. (2020). U.S. county level analysis to determine If social distancing slowed the spread of COVID-19. Pan American Journal of Public Health, 44(e90). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7334824/
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Goolsbee, Austan, Syverson, & Chad, Fear, lockdown, and diversion: Comparing drivers of pandemic economic decline 2020 (June 19, 2020). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2020-80. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3631180
Leatherby, L., & Harris, R. (2020, November 18). States that imposed few restrictions now have the worst outbreaks. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/18/us/covid-state-restrictions.html
Richards, S. (2020, April 3). A short primer on coronavirus biology. https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2020/04/covid-19-coronavirus-primer.html
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Thunström, L., Newbold, S., Finnoff, D., Ashworth, M., & Shogren, J. (2020). The benefits and costs of using social distancing to flatten the curve for COVID-19. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, 11(2), 179-195. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-benefit-cost-analysis/article/benefits-and-costs-of-using-social-distancing-to-flatten-the-curve-for-covid19/204BD93C135EC727FAEFC62E3BE72C3B