COVID-19 has put elderly and those with pre-existing conditions on the front lines of the pandemic

The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions have now been drafted onto the front lines in order to restart economies as we face a balancing act of the costs of the shut-down versus the lives of the most vulnerable. The COVID-19 situation is now a moral ethics problem, in which we must decide between letting COVID-19 kill off a portion of the population in hopes of reaching herd immunity versus the dire results of shutting down the economy leading to another great depression, loss of freedoms and isolation. There is no easy or right answer to this and any attempts to measure this involve assuming a utilitarian solution to a large number of subjective variables.

Johanna Swanson, Product Manager at GlobalData, offers her view:

“The lockdowns and social distancing were delaying measures to flatten the curve and allow time for a treatment and/or a vaccine to emerge. While some promising treatments such as remdesivir have emerged, giving hope that we can lessen the mortality rate of the disease, a vaccine is still a way off. It is not given that a vaccine can be developed or that recovered patients or vaccinated people will have a long-enough-lasting immunity to achieve herd immunity.

“In this case, we will have to let the disease run its course. The best we can hope to do is isolate and support the proportion of the population that is vulnerable to the disease, while the less at-risk try to return to work. Opening up our economies without these protective and supportive measures in place forces these vulnerable populations to accept a higher risk.

“As an example, consider the elderly who are in care homes. They are more likely to have underlying conditions. They are living in close quarters with shared caregivers in homes that may lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing. Elderly COVID-19 patients discharged from the hospital into a care home have a chance of infecting other residents, but they cannot stay in hospitals that are overflowing with other patients. This situation is a setup for a disaster in these care homes, as was seen earlier in March in Seattle.

“In order to address this issue, we should keep the COVID-19 patients separated from vulnerable populations and provide monetary and social support to those at a higher risk. We will also have to desist from victim-blaming these more vulnerable populations.”

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