During my last visit to the grocery store, after directing me to the hermetically sealed conveyor belt, the clerk grinning proudly said, “Welcome to the new normal.” No, thank you. These ad hoc restrictions on our liberties are not normal—at least in the United States of America.
In the name of public health, prisoners have been released from jail, physicians are being restricted in what drugs they can use to treat their COVID-19 patients, and cancer patients are having their treatments delayed as “elective.”
Every day 7,400 people die in the United States from many causes, including infectious diseases, but running totals are not broadcast on every medium. The unceasing barrage of news programs about the coronavirus / COVID-19 have become a means to whip us into submission.
The mayor of Los Angeles is perversely proud that 99 percent of “non-essential” businesses are closed and threatens to sue those who have not closed. A local town has issued 129 citations at $1,000 a pop for non-compliance. Riverside County plans to cite residents witnessed to have their faces uncovered.
Obamacare’s architect, Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, has suggested that the country stay on lockdown for one and a half years, or “until we find a vaccine or effective medications.” This is lunacy.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 40 percent of women, 37 percent of men and nearly half of parents with a child younger than 18 years old report they have either lost their job, income, or had their hours reduced without pay. A classic 1979 study found that for every 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate, mortality increased by 1.2 percent, cardiovascular disease by 1.7 percent, cirrhosis of the liver by 1.3 percent, suicides by 1.7 percent, arrests by 4 percent, and reported assaults by 0.8 percent. Pre-pandemic, nearly 20 people per minute were physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Predictably, episodes of domestic violence and child abuse have now increased. Closed businesses have become easy targets for thieves.
There is a rational course of action without shutting down human contact and the economy. Sweden has no more deaths or symptomatic infections per capita than many other countries despite choosing to merely encourage its citizens to physically distance as much as possible.
We must allow physicians to treat their patients as they see fit with effective drugs. Multiple physicians around the world are reporting success with hydroxychloroquine: a new off-label use for this FDA-approved drug for a new virus. If this virus is akin to Armageddon, then all reasonable ideas should be welcomed. The erection of barriers to the use of this potentially life-saving drug by many governors and state medical boards is appalling and unforgiveable. Hydroxychloroquine was approved for medical use in the United States more than 60 years ago. It has been safely used for years for malaria prophylaxis, autoimmune disease, and porphyria, a blood disease affecting hemoglobin (that carries oxygen to our tissues). Hydroxychloroquine is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the “most effective and safe” to meet the most important needs of a health system. Widespread use of this inexpensive drug could obviate the need for ICU beds and ventilators.
In addition to early treatment, we must have a rational policy for getting people back to work. All states are not affected equally. Let’s test every working person for antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. We may find that many have had an asymptomatic infection. These immune individuals will not pass the disease to others. At-risk individuals can choose to stay at home.
Ending the lockdown is not about Wall Street or disregard for people’s lives; it about saving lives. Advanced stages of non-COVID diseases, suicides, domestic violence, increase in substance abuse and mental health disorders, permanent poverty, and dissolution of the middle class are unacceptable. Our society must not be fractured into those who live in gated communities and those who live in the streets, trailer parks, and decaying homes that they can no longer afford to keep up.
We all want to do our part to attenuate the number of serious COVID infections in our communities. But we cannot hand our lives over to the government, particularly when the virus has become an opportunity for Congress to pass pork-filled legislation, for showboating governors to out-quarantine each other, and for politically connected tech companies to share cell phone tracking data with the government. I would hate to think some have a financial incentive for promoting a yet-to-be tested and approved vaccine in lieu of an effective, inexpensive and readily available treatment.
People are saying America will never be the same. Hopefully, this will not mean the statists have succeeded in using COVID as an excuse to enact laws that will permanently curtail our liberties and freedom to practice medicine in the best interest of our patients.
Dr. Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist. She is the immediate past President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). She graduated from Stanford and earned her MD at UCSF Medical School. Dr. Singleton completed 2 years of Surgery residency at UCSF, then her Anesthesia residency at Harvard’s Beth Israel Hospital. While still working in the operating room, she attended UC Berkeley Law School, focusing on constitutional law and administrative law. She interned at the National Health Law Project and practiced insurance and health law. She teaches classes in the recognition of elder abuse and constitutional law for non-lawyers.