Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines opened a COVID-19 “cabana” outside its urgent care center. / Photo courtesy of Scripps Health
Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines opened a COVID-19 “cabana” outside its urgent care center. / Photo courtesy of Scripps Health

One of the more peculiar things I heard people say, as we watched the coronavirus spread and leave human and economic pandemonium in its wake, is that they would know things were real if casinos on the Las Vegas Strip closed.

I intuitively knew what they meant. But I couldn’t put it into words.

The economy is about connection. The economy as a whole is the sum of the velocity of people connecting with one another and trading money, goods, information, services, ideas, entertainment and investments.

And in few places is that velocity and friction more intense than in Las Vegas Strip casinos.

People there cram themselves together to make the connections more quickly and efficiently. They exchange cash, push buttons, trade chips, and dance and eat and drink and basically smash together in so, so many ways. The fever is so intense, it’s a molten throbbing mass reshaping itself constantly.

It makes sense that people would think of that part of the economy as a kind of tell.

Because what we’re doing right now is administering a sort of chemotherapy on the economy. A virus has hitched a ride on all these humans smashing together into the economy, and all these connections are exactly what’s spreading it. The economy is literally spreading the virus.

And the theory is, that the virus can hurt us so much and thus hurt our economy so much that we’ve decided the pain we’re inflicting now is worth it in the long run. It’s like chemotherapy: We are trying to destroy its ability to spread – but that has brutal consequences on healthy cells.

That’s why kids are at home. That’s why gatherings, sports, bars and gyms are closing. We’re betting all of this money and sacrifice on the idea that we’ll be better off long-term.

The sacrifice will be immense. The main reason we’re doing all of this is to protect our most vulnerable neighbors and the capacity of the health care system. I spoke with Dr. James Dunford, the former medical director for the city of San Diego and an emeritus professor at UC San Diego, who focused his entire career on emergency medicine.

We’re focused on hospital capacity and part of that capacity is the workforce itself, he said.

“If 20 percent of all the doctors and nurses and first responders get sick from this, and that can happen, suddenly the entire public safety net we have will be eroded, and we will have to start thinking about resources and systems that people living their normal lives never have to think about,” Dunford said.

That’s what we’re worried about – that’s the system we’re doing all this to protect.

So it does make sense that so many people wondered about that place – Las Vegas – where economic self-interest trumps all, where it’s celebrated. It would really mean something if that place shut down for the greater good. It would mean this is an alarming threat even to them.

This all – this toxic therapy we’re all taking – is a hell of a thing for humanity to go through together. It’s heroic. I think more leaders should try to help people feel better about what they’re doing.

So many of the updates we have heard have come from public officials presenting the image of the stern scold. The result is fear and dismay.

And that is easy to succumb to. I know. I feel it with you every day. I help run an organization. We have 15 employees. I think the organization can survive this. But I have never seen the economy completely shut down. That seems like a worrisome development!

And now my kids are home every day. We will be able to take care of them. It will be a strain.

Others will not be so fortunate. The pressure on them will be acute and intense and life-altering. They are sacrificing in this war just like frontline responders. People who suffer because of this will become veterans of a sort we haven’t necessarily had. They are giving up their livelihoods to protect their neighbors.

This is a beautiful thing for them to do.

We must take care of them. If this is worth it, that is the least we can do.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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