For six months now, Republican legislators in Harrisburg have been telling a false story about COVID-19 and the economy. They have been claiming that we must choose between a growing economy and efforts to protect us from the COVID-19 virus and avoid overwhelming hospitals and health care systems. And they have held that government business closures and stay-at-home orders are responsible for the deep economic crash that has occurred in countries all over the world.
This is a false narrative that poses a false choice.
An economic decline was inevitable once the COVID-19 virus started spreading out of control because most Americans are sensible enough to understand the risks—not just to our own health but to that of those we care about—of interacting with others in stores, restaurants, religious services, sports and entertainment venues, and other recreational settings. Government orders may have heightened our concerns and forced some businesses to close that would not have done so—but a great deal of economic activity would have stopped with or without government orders. The customers of those businesses and many others would have simply stayed away. And many owners of those businesses would have closed to protect themselves, their employees, or their reputations.
Moreover, the most effective way to ensure that the economy did not enter a deep and lengthy recession was to get COVID-19 under control as quickly as possible so that people had the confidence to return to work and to stores, restaurants and bars, theaters, and sporting events. That would have also prevented a second or a third spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths which would have again led to businesses choosing to close and customers choosing to stay home. We did that in Pennsylvania to a certain extent, although not as well as we might have. Those states that did not take this route—that opened businesses, especially restaurants, bars, and sports and entertainment venues prematurely—saw a second, deadly wave of COVID-19 that forced those businesses and others, as well as schools and universities to close, which in turn led to a second decline in economic activity.
The evidence in support of this conclusion is indirect but overwhelming.