December 1st 2020
Short intense travel bans have the potential to do what indeterminate lockdowns and long loose covid-19 restrictions have not: enable a more open economy, without allowing too many new long term covid disabilities and or/deaths.
Governments and health authorities the world over have struggled to find the right mix of economic activity, infection spread, hospital capacity and deaths. In the USA and Western Europe that has generally long low level restrictions on just about everything. To say it’s wearing thin is an understatement. Not everyone is on board with this approach, and aside from the prominent politicians who have flouted their own rules, there are just way too many remaining ways people can transfer the virus.
With months to go until the effect of vaccines and improved therapies can take hold, perhaps it’s time for something different. The current approach seems to be dragging the suffering out, with much pain for little stable long term gain.
And Now for Something Completely Different
Instead of the famous ‘hammer and the dance’ approach, consider the ‘body slam’.
A body slam would be a pre-scheduled travel ban of definite duration. The idea is to keep the economic impact manageable while enabling looser restrictions between slams. A slam would always start with a shopping and stock up period with expanded grocery and food bank hours. Once the slam starts, the idea is to shutter all forms of travel for at least 5 days, perhaps 6.
The goal is not to completely eliminate the virus, but to knock the growth down. The start of an exponential growth curve is not very scary: covid starts small and grows faster and faster. The goal of a body slam is to get already infected persons to the point of symptoms, or if they’re asymptomatic past the point of maximum virus shedding.
Travel bans clearly work. People who don’t interact with each other can’t infect each other, period.
The body slam is proposed as a travel ban because it’s the easiest and most fair way to actually get it done.
Every other method requires detailed compliance monitoring in a world where attitudes toward specific interventions may range from skeptical to overtly hostile. At this point, mask requirements are a lost cause, vaccine hesitancy will keep people away from the needle, and millions can’t resist having a house party. Worse yet, it’s too hard to figure out which activities are allowed.
There’s no such problem with a body slam: as a travel ban, it’s simple to explain and simple to follow. Shelter could be home or a residential workplace, home, destination resort, school or whatever. Everyone is asked to pick a spot, stock up on food, and hole for the duration.
The next obvious starting point is the Christmas season in Western countries, with the last day of travel December 23rd and return perhaps January 5th. Again: in this plan people could travel in advance: they just have to stick with it for a week or so. It’s a lot like what people do anyway.
The fewer exceptions to the travel ban the better. This means no mail service, no shops, no grocery stores, no housekeepers, no food delivery, no rideshare, no public transit. No construction, no shipping, no trains, planes or hovercraft. No printing, no food processing, no slaughterhouses. No visiting the neighbors.
Limit essential workers to nuclear power plant and dam operators, emergency room personnel, covid testing lab technicians, N95 mask factory workers, and some ambulance drivers and you’ve got the spirit. Maybe carve out a few exceptions for farmers who work alone, but not much more.
And during each slam, give everyone the opportunity to study online to do contact tracing. The goal is to ensure that when someone does get sick, they can be contacted by a member from one of their own identity groups — church, city, county, playgroup or whatever. And use the Las Vegas rule — everyone contacted gets the choice that their data either stays with the contact tracer, or gets reported out to health authorities. Make ’em pinky swear if needed, but it’s critical. Keep the health authority and government out of it, to the extent that helps.
Then, open back up on schedule, as promised, with benefits such as lowered restrictions.