South Korea Proves We Don’t Have to Shut Down the Economy to Curb Coronavirus Transmission

August 31, 2020

It seems the official plan to combat COVID-19 is to issue mandatory stay-at-home orders for hundreds of millions of Americans. Since California made the first declaration on March 19, 16 states have followed suit, issuing orders of their own. The logic is, if people are required to stay home except when they need to get essential items, then fewer people will come in contact with potential carriers of coronavirus, thus slowing the rate at which the virus spreads. That is exactly the type of linear, tone-deaf thinking—which pays no regard to how average people live their lives—that we have come to expect from our elected officials.

It’s not just that the stay-at-home orders are overly harsh and economically crippling, though they certainly are. It’s that they simply will not contain the virus at the rate needed to save as many lives as possible. Reports continue to surface that people largely disregard the order and continue to interact.

Some states have even recognized that the orders are unenforceable. However, businesses are much more likely to comply and not operate while such orders are in place. So, in effect, the policy doesn’t do much to keep people indoors, but it does halt economic activity, exacerbating the financial pain people are already going through. Stay-at-home orders, then, are a lose-lose proposal.

What then is the solution‐issuing additional pieces of legislation? No, we don’t need ceremonial actions from our leaders on high. We need results, and we need them fast.

Evidence continues to pour out of South Korea demonstrating that their model is the most effective means to contain the virus.

South Korea launched an immense testing and educational effort to combat the virus, educating citizens on the importance of staying at home while encouraging them to get tested. This approach works because we can quickly isolate carriers of the virus and prevent them from spreading the disease. Rather than swinging blindly at the problem, we target only those infected.

If one is not infected, he or she practices key safety measures such as social distancing and proper hand washing, but can continue to work, make a living and put food on the table. This has resulted in South Korea flattening their curve without shutting everything down, and more people keeping their jobs. A win-win situation.

Right now, we don’t know exactly how many people have the virus in the U.S., because we have not been remotely earnest enough in ramping up testing to isolate carriers. And despite increased efforts, the U.S. has tested only 1 in every 786 Americans, compared to 1 in every 142 South Koreans.

The “test-and-treat” model would be a proper path forward for the U.S. to adopt, yet officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations continue to double down on what seems to be the only possible solution in their minds: shutting down the U.S. economy.

Time is of the essence, but local leaders in states across the country have been wasting precious days debating if they should issue an order that has unknown effect on containing the virus. The question is a red herring, distracting us from a policy that has been proven to curtail the virus and flatten the curve: large-scale testing and treatment.

The private sector must be enlisted to create the requisite number of tests in time. Luckily, the FDA has recognized the efficiency of free enterprise in combatting coronavirus and has loosened burdensome restrictions to increase the rate at which tests are produced. We need more of this type of deregulation to significantly increase our testing efforts.

Issuing a stay-at-home order may make a politician feel like a leader, but it certainly doesn’t make them one. Leaders produce results. They understand the issues and chart a path to a viable solution for everyone. We don’t have to sacrifice the U.S. economy in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and South Korea has demonstrated as much. It’s time the United States government recognized that.