You can call the reopening of America’s businesses an experiment. I’ll call it a gamble, and we know what the stakes are.
I’ll let Dr. Tony Fauci, the most trusted person in America when it comes to the novel coronavirus and possibly everything else, explain: “It’s the balance of something that’s a very difficult choice, like how many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be, some form of normality, sooner rather than later?”
I don’t know if Fauci, who made the comment Monday night on CNN, was thinking of Colorado. But there will soon be a rush of reopenings throughout the United States as well as in Europe, and, given how the virus works, it will take weeks to measure the impact.
As you have no doubt heard or read, The New York Times got hold of a draft forecast model — under seals of both the CDC and the HHS — showing that by June 1, we could be seeing 200,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 3,000 deaths daily. The Washington Post found the Johns Hopkins associate professor, Justin Hessler, who authored the study, which he called “a work in progress” that depended on the political decisions made this month.
Meanwhile, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts we’ll hit 135,000 deaths by early August. In April, the IHME had predicted 60,000 deaths.
Those are the models. In real life, The Times noted that more than a month has gone by since we’ve seen a day with fewer than 1,000 deaths, and that the number of cases nationally is expanding by 2 to 4 percent daily while hot spots are starting to show up in rural America.
The scary new models — and models, the experts all tell us, are only as good as the information that feeds them — are based less on medical science than social science. We assume there will be an inevitable lessening of social distancing upon reopening and a growing number of people who might ignore the suggestion — or in places like Denver, as the mayor confirmed Tuesday, the mandate — to wear masks in public settings. There’s an excellent piece in The Atlantic on the reason to wear masks, containing this clear message: “Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump got out of the house Tuesday to make a trip to Arizona, where he toured a mask-production company. He did not wear a mask. Of course. Neither did any of the company officials with him, even though there was a sign saying they were entering an area where masks were required. Thanks to Trump, we have reached the point of absurdity wherein wearing a mask has become a political choice, although we should give some credit to Mike Pence for admitting the obvious — that he was wrong not to have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic.
I’ve criticized Jared Polis, the poster governor for mask wearing, for reopening Colorado without sufficient testing or contact tracing. And yet, I feel reasonably confident that if the data does show a surge in Colorado that Polis would pull back, even if doing so would spark a far greater degree of protest. I’m not nearly as confident about some other states.
What’s most strange in the rush to reopen is that most Americans apparently oppose it. Yes, we see those “very good people” who come armed with intimidating weaponry joining other demonstrators in demanding a quick reopening to the economy, but they hardly represent a majority.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released Tuesday showed most people are opposed to reopening movie theaters (82%), gyms (78%), in-dining restaurants (74%), nail salons (74%), gun stores (70%), hair salons and barber shops (69%) and retail stores (66%).
Other polls have shown similar numbers, which tell us that people are nervous about reopening, maybe even more nervous than they are about the plummeting economy. It’s not just that models show the possible danger ahead, there is also the likelihood, according to Fauci and many others, that the virus will — if it ever leaves — return in the fall or winter with a vengeance.
If you’re actually working — and many jobs, sadly, will disappear, just as many restaurants and small retail outlets will disappear — the decision is whether you should spend your money or save your money. And that’s, of course, beyond the concern of what to do with the kids, given the lack of day-care services, when you’re called back to work.
Or, just take this poll: How many of you are ready to fly on an airplane for either business or pleasure? A show of hands will do.
Meanwhile, in a couple of states, the governors are threatening to withhold unemployment insurance from those who refuse to return to the workplace — say, for instance, if you work in a meat processing plant. Or if you’re over 65 or have an underlying disease. And Trump doesn’t want to “bail out” blue states — with our money — unless they end sanctuary cities, which have, of course, no legal definition.
Here’s how bad the economy — with the astonishing unemployment numbers — has gotten: Some Wendy’s restaurants have run out of hamburgers. Maybe Arby’s does have all the meats.
Reopening the economy will require that people trust they’ll be safe. There’s no question that the majority of people don’t trust Trump to make the right call. They don’t trust that the federal government has done what it should have done in ensuring equipment for hospitals or for testing or for contact-tracing.
Trump has basically left the bulk of that work, he admits, to governors. It’s a plan without a plan. And just when people are being asked to believe that it is time to reopen, Vice President Pence confirmed reports that he’s “having conversations” that the White House coronavirus task force could wind up its work by the end of the month.
And yet, just before Pence told reporters about the likely wind-down, Dr. Fauci said he had heard nothing about it.
Meanwhile, and this is not a model, the official U.S. death toll has passed 70,000.