How do we win the battle without losing the war? Current efforts limiting social contact to slow the coronavirus spread are critically important. According to experts, they’ll be most effective if strictly adhered to for a five-week period. While focused on the immediate threat, I hope we don’t lose sight of the significant, adverse effects of an imploding economy on public health, safety and welfare.

As virus counts mount, loss of life is not the only tragedy. Stories of skyrocketing unemployment claims, worsening food insecurity and mounting mental health problems, substance use disorders and domestic violence risks are beginning to emerge. Symptomatic of a severe economic downturn, these conditions are as potentially formidable as COVID-19 itself. History shows that morbidity rates increase in economic downturns in response to many of the issues that are now becoming more prevalent.

COVID-19 is just one public health battle confronting us. In America alone, 36,000 people are killed by gun violence annually, more than 67,000 died from drug-related overdoses in 2018 and three years ago, suicide claimed the lives of 47,000 people.

Balanced and deliberate decision-making now, combined with a renewed sense of common good, should better position us to defeat the immediate health threat – and emerge with the energy and resources needed to address all of our country’s other public health, safety and well-being challenges.

Patricia Brigham


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