Coronavirus Shutdowns Reduce Spread of Illness, Negligence

As of this writing, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States exceeds 54,453, and at least 737 people have died from the related illness, known as COVID-19. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is a federal agency that reported the tallies referenced above. [1] But the New York Times keeps its own database of cases drawing from a variety of reporting sources, and its figures are higher: 63,744 illnesses and at least 897 deaths. [2]) Could this global pandemic affect the incidence of Nevada personal injuries?

Indirect Effects of the Coronavirus

Public health experts are still aggressively studying the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 illness, but much remains uncertain about this dangerous pathogen. There is still some doubt about how deadly it is – initial data indicated that it was virtually harmless for young people and a near death sentence for people over age 60, though reports are emerging of serious illness in about 10 percent of people under age 50. [3]

But there seems to be no doubt that the virus is highly contagious. Respiratory illnesses are often very contagious because as we become symptomatic, we cough and sneeze, sending out sprays of fluids loaded with replicated viruses. Researchers have found that the coronavirus can survive for exceedingly long periods on surfaces, including up to three days on plastics. [4] (On the other hand, the survival of a small fraction of viruses on X surface for Y period does not mean that anyone who comes into contact with X surface within Y time will become infected. [4])

Given the potential lethality and undoubted contagiousness of the coronavirus, there has been consistent guidance from the CDC, the World Health Organization, and many state governors and other leaders: wash your hands frequently and practice “social distancing.” [5] Although these two pieces of advice are key, there are other steps we can all take. For instance, Google has been promoting “The Five”:

  • HANDS: wash them often
  • ELBOW: cough into it
  • FACE: don’t touch it
  • FEET: stay more than 3ft (1m) apart
  • FEEL sick? Stay home [6]

Most health experts recommend maintaining at least six feet of distance from others, not just three. And several states have now put into effect guidance or orders that have shuttered “non-essential” businesses in a bid to keep people at home. Not everyone has been complying, and some young people even gathered in large crowds at beaches in Texas and Florida over the recent spring break period. [7] But by and large Americans have answered the call to adopt some self-sacrifice in service to the larger goal of slowing the spread of the coronavirus so that research into a cure or vaccine can advance and so that hospitalizations are spaced out more evenly to avoid overwhelming the medical system.

Less Doing May Mean Less Hurting

To state the obvious, these efforts to slow the virus have been a positive for public health and a big negative for economic activity. If consumers are observing these orders by remaining at home, they are not out buying goods, consuming services, or enjoying restaurant meals. That has led to furloughs or outright firings of front-line workers, leading them to pull back. This feedback loop has sent the stock market tumbling and likely has plunged the U.S. economy into a recession.

That is bad. The Las Vegas Strip may be the functional core of the Nevada economy, and it looked like the (glittery, glowing) main avenue of a ghost town this past weekend. Some 200,000 casino workers have been laid off under Nevada’s shelter-in-place order that has closed casinos, restaurants, bars, and many businesses. [8] The economic pain sure to worsen and deepens as it continues to spread.

But one silver lining to it all is that it may come to pass that less doing means less hurting. Fewer restaurant meals served means fewer food poisoning injuries. Closed casinos mean there will be fewer casino slip-and-fall accidents. Placing Nevada’s bars on hiatus may do more to curb the scourge of drunk driving accidents than have Nevada law enforcement agencies’ ongoing efforts to stop drinking and driving and lower the state’s DUI injury and DUI fatality statistics.

Throughout the economy, the many ways in which we have retreated into our homes – of necessity, and likely striking the right balance between economic and physical wellbeing at this moment – have the side effect of keeping us from hurting one another. The idea behind almost all personal injury lawsuits is that every person owes everyone around them a duty to exercise reasonable care. Living in a society as diverse and dynamic as ours means coming into contact with all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. Usually those interactions are fine, but sometimes they cause harm. That harm can be due to totally bizarre accidents, and in those cases, we generally do not make the “hurting” party make the “injured” party whole. But the rest of the time, when the injury resulted from a lack of basic care, from a violation of that duty to protect those around us, we use our system of civil justice to ensure that everyone does what is fair and right after the fact.

When all this is over, we will go back to life as usual. We will go back to living alongside one another and to hurting one another sometimes. We will even go back to suing one another for our personal injuries. The world is pulling together during this time, and we are sacrificing our desires to go out and about because of the duties we owe one another. Those mutual duties have always mattered; this crisis is just reminding us of it.









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