A lot of the response by government at its various levels to the coronavirus has struck me as overreaction and even overkill. However, there is absolutely no denying its effectiveness. Instead of hundreds of thousands sick and thousands dead, the United States has been relatively blessed, with only 8,055 cases and 127 deaths (as of March 18) among our 332 million people.

In this regard, we have been a lot better off than (say) Italy, with 35,713 cases and 2,978 deaths among its 60 million people. That’s an infection rate 248 times as high as here, and a death rate 23 times as high.

I speculate the difference between our Italian friends and us is quicker and more effective reaction by us, to include the travel ban from China (where – despite the claims of racism by some – the disease has been shown to have originated) for a start. Good show, despite the nuisance imposed by some actions to a greater or lesser degree. As I read in the book Firebreak by Richard Herman, Jr. sometime ago:

Whatever works, works. If it’s dumb, but it works, then it ain’t dumb.

So far so good. And I note further measures being proposed to address the undoubted economic dislocation caused by so many people having to stay home from work to prevent the spread of the disease. Some of them, like the just-passed paid sick leave measure in the $105 billion coronavirus aid package, seem like ideas of at least decent merit.

Others, like the proposal to send each taxpayer anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500, give me a great deal of pause.

Sure, I could find a use for another couple thou’. And since it’s to go to taxpayers, I am less concerned it will go to folks who did not earn it in the first place, than I would be with some other proposals (like a guaranteed income, from some politicians).

In addition, as is oft repeated by many conservatives including me, it has been demonstrated that people with more money in their pockets will do one or both of two things with it: spend it or save it, and both are good for the economy.

Yet I am wary. Why?

Just look around at the stores here in town. What do you see on the shelves?

... a whole lotta nuthin’, right? People bought up things like toilet paper as if they had the worst-ever cases of diarrhea, and then all kinds of other things that may or may not have had anything to do with preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Now, no one has ever explained the rush on toilet paper: diarrhea was never listed as a symptom of COVID-19. And nobody that bought up such excessive quantities of toilet paper ever had the presence of mind to suggest it was to serve a purpose similar to Kleenex® or other tissues, in the absence of such.

That says such people bought it – and the other stuff, no doubt – because they could, not because they needed it.

And that was without an extra grand or two to blow on toilet paper.

So how about this? Instead of sending the money directly to each and every taxpayer, how about targeting it to those who, as working people, have actually been laid off or otherwise rendered without income?

How about putting that money into unemployment insurance? I’d like to have the money, but I don’t need it nearly as much as (say) a waitress in a restaurant who makes less than minimum wage, plus tips – that aren’t gonna be there if she has to stay home even if she is not sick.

Let such people spend this money or save it, as they will. But I daresay if they have been laid off or otherwise required to stay home, they will be a lot less likely to clean the stores out of toilet paper again.

Not when there is other stuff they will likely need more – like food, for example.

Gary Exelby is a reporter for the Paragould Daily Press. He can be reached at gexelby@paragoulddailypress.com.

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