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Among all its other impacts and ramifications, the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing us as a people to define ourselves and our priorities.

Are we simply the components of a great and powerful economy, each with a role to play and financial goals to achieve, or do we have intrinsic value as human beings?

Is it fair to present that as an either/or question? We all need to work, to make money, to pay our bills, to provide shelter, food and clothing for ourselves and our loved ones, to put our shoulder to the wheels of the massive U.S. economic engine so as many people as possible can ride it to prosperity. Our economic and physical well-being are interconnected. Perhaps it is just our spiritual well-being that remains independent.

What is your value if you are not contributing to the economy? Let’s be blunt, many of us disregard and degrade those who are homeless or chronically unemployed because they don’t contribute in that manner.

Right now, in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions and slow the spread of the virus by staying home, many of us are not contributing to our nation’s financial well-being. It’s not by choice, but for the moment we are who we are without the work garments we don each morning.

We work for our own needs, but our labor also generates wealth for others, whether investors or stock holders or higher-echelon international corporate executives we will never encounter in our daily lives. They have a stake in us getting out of bed each day and doing our duties, right?

COVID-19 restrictions are wreaking havoc on the economy. There are no safe jobs, whether private or public sector, if the economy is halted for an extended period.

That raises the question of when do economic needs outweigh personal health and safety?

First of all, we need to decide if that’s even a question. The notion that we can segue into an alternate reality where the economy kicks back into gear and “acceptable” loses (i.e. deaths from the virus) occur may not be a realistic scenario. Allowing COVID-19 to take its run through our communities will overburden the health care system and create significant economic loses on its own. COVID-19 is not the flu. It seems to spread faster and has a higher mortality rate for the elderly and those with underlying health issues. Plus, at the moment there is no vaccine. Rolling the dice on a global pandemic that has no treatment and is not entirely understood is a high-risk venture.

While health officials locally and across the nation preach from the same hymnal on the need to drastically limit interactions to slow the spread, it is also a fact the Donald Trump couches the situation in different terms. Monday he tweeted, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” (His version was all caps.)

Others have said similar things, and not just Fox News celebrities. A Wall Street Journal editorial broached it as a topic previous to Trump’s tweet.

The cure in this case is the halting of the economy and the problem is deaths caused by the virus. One of the more insightful and revealing quotes about Donald Trump came from his son Eric Trump when he was defending his father against charges of racism.

“My father sees one color: green — that is all he cares about,” Eric Trump said.

We remain a county of people of many colors, but few, if any of us, show up as green right now.

If that’s the priority it is easy to rationalize a roll back on COVID-19 restrictions by saying more people die in car crashes and we don’t outlaw driving, etc. That analogy overlooks the massive public investment made in reducing auto fatalities and the many restrictions placed on automobile use to minimize fatal collisions.

The math says the COVID-19 spread will peak (not end) in the U.S. in early May. Trump has suggested lifting at least some restrictions by Easter (April 12). There is a disconnect there, to say nothing of the fact the federal government has not imposed the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions — states have done that on their own.

This state’s stay-at-home order currently lasts until April 6. What happens after that date? Schools remain closed through late April. The state level is complicated enough, but project that on the national scale where states are at different stages of the coronavirus spread with varying levels of restrictions.

Of all the difficult discussions we can have with each other while under our stay-at-home order, this one may be the toughest. We all think we have value independent of our paychecks. But maybe that’s easier to say when you have a steady paycheck.

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