America still can’t agree on what it’s attempting to accomplish more than a year and a half after the Covid-19 outbreak began. Is it the goal to eradicate completely? Is it to avoid hospitals being overburdened? Is it reaching a vaccination threshold that reduces the worst outcomes while not preventing all infections? Is it anything completely different?
A significant question that the US, including policymakers, professionals, and the general public, has never been able to answer is how many Covid-19 deaths are too many. From the start, America’s anti-pandemic operations have been hampered by a lack of a clear end aim. The purpose of the limits was initially to “flatten the curve,” or keep the number of cases low enough that hospitals could treat those that did develop.
America is today caught in the middle of these two extremes: The country seeks to lower the risk of Covid-19 while also limiting the residual effects of social separation and other Covid-related constraints on daily life. Will Americans accept the deaths of tens of thousands of people if it means life can return to normal, as they did with the flu? Can the public accept an even greater death toll — similar to the drug overdose crisis, which is expected to kill 94,000 people by 2020 — if it means truly ending social distancing and other precautions?