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While Donald Trump and others eagerly look toward reopening a US economy currently shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic as early as May 1, others are sounding an alarm that that date is likely still be too soon given the risks to public health.
Much of the United States has been under severe lockdown and social distancing conditions to protect Americans from the novel coronavirus and slow its spread.
Initially, Trump wanted to pull the nation out of its lockdown by Easter but was warned that would be too soon given the path that the virus is taking. He subsequently refocused on May 1.
As many as 17 million Americans have reported themselves unemployed in recent weeks, an unemployment figure not seen in this country since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.
There have been more than 1.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The virus has killed more than 113,000.
In the United States, there have been 573,210 reported cases, including 22,934 deaths, according to the latest figures.
Maryland Gov Larry Hogan (R), whose state is anticipated to take the brunt of pandemic with the rest of the Washington DC region following the New York area’s surge, said that he won’t be cowed into artificial deadlines.
“Well, we haven’t gotten any kind of artificial deadline on that. Look, everybody wants to get the country back on track as quickly as we can as long as we do in a safe manner, we got this twin problem of this terrible health crisis–where we’ve got tens of thousands of people dying–and yet, we also have this incredible economic challenge where we’ve got millions of people who are unemployed and small businesses being hurt everywhere,” said Hogan, one of the few Republicans willing to buck Trump. “We got to balance those needs. We do also have to think about, how do we eventually ramp up and get some folks back to work?”
Rather than think about a hard-and-fast deadline to restart the economy, it would be better to consider a rolling restart approach, based on where the virus may have subsided, said Dr Anthony Fauci, a preeminent American immunologist who has been serving on the federal coronavirus task force.
“Obviously, if you do it in an all-or-none way, there’s an extraordinary risk of there being a rebound. In that respect, that model is correct,” Dr Fauci said in an interview on TV, discussing University of Washington modeling of virus behavior. “That’s why I mean it’s not an all or none. It’s going to be something that you gradually and carefully, in different parts of the country, in different ways, try to get back. I totally agree if all of a sudden we decide: ‘Okay, it’s May whatever and we just turn the switch on,’ that could be a real problem. And everybody knows that.
“So it’s going to be something different from that. It’s going to be a concerted way to take a look and try doing it appropriately, depending upon where you are in the country and what the nature of the outbreak is in that part of the country,” Dr Fauci added. “And I’m sure you’ll hear the same thing from the governors.”
An important key is to dramatically increase testing for the virus, according to Raj Shah, former administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
“I’ll start by just saying that this is actually a tremendous crisis, and the first thing we have to do to get people back to work and to protect essential workers, which include all the folks that Paul mentioned but also the frontline health workers who are — my sister is a physician — who are rushing into the hospital to take care of folks who have COVID-19,” Shah said in an interview on Fox News. “And the reality is, to protect that population, broadly speaking, we need to move from hundreds of thousands of tests a day to many millions of tests a day at a minimum. And that’s going to take a big national effort. It’s going to take a lot of public investment. It’s going to take cities and states all working together with the federal government.
“We need biotechnology companies, scientists, university labs, all working together to achieve that goal because we’re at war and we can win it, but we can only win it with a broad effort around testing,” he said. “I think we’ve seen a number of very promising efforts including from Abbott, the new test that they’re rolling out in Detroit and some other cities. We see a whole host of serum antibody tests that could potentially identify who has immunity.
“But the first goal has to just be scaling up access to the traditional PCR testing so we know who has the virus, who doesn’t. We can do it cheaply, people get results within minutes,” Shah said. “The technology, we think, is there. It’s about having a national strategy and a big public-private collaboration.”
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