The wisdom on reopening: Economic loss can be recouped, death is permanent

A woman waits for a Blue Line train at Government Center on April 3.
A woman waits for a Blue Line train at Government Center on April 3.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Impatience is deadly.

Even in states such as ours, where a reasonable degree of prudence has prevailed, many have died, are dying, and will die in the coronavirus pandemic. And while the curve has been flattened to some degree by isolation measures, we must not be so foolish as to act as if the danger has lessened.

We need to keep in mind, as few seem to recall, that “flattening the curve” means only that all the acute illnesses and deaths would not come together, overwhelming our health care system’s capacity to cope. Flattening the curve aims for a delay in some of the infections, just putting them off to be faced later. It does not necessarily mean fewer infections or fewer deaths (except for those that would have been caused by overwhelmed medical forces).


Opening up society and businesses now, or soon, will lead to many deaths. Death is permanent. Economic loss can eventually be recouped. Trading deaths for dollars is unconscionable. Inconvenience and boredom must be borne with equanimity. Only when a critical mass of the populace has developed herd immunity will it be safe to open society, with caution. Only after availability and acceptance of an effective vaccine will we return to something like normal. Then, we’d better be prepared before another onslaught.

Dr. Abby J. Greenberg

Dr. Harvey E. Finkel


Greenberg is a past acting commissioner of health and former director of the Division of Epidemiology, Nassau County, N.Y., and Finkel is a retired clinical professor of medicine, Boston University Medical Center.