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Is President Trump’s Optimism About Reopening America Justified?

15 days to slow the spread
As congressional leaders finally agreed on a coronavirus relief package, President Trump on Tuesday evening emphasized his desire for the U.S. to reopen for business by Easter: "I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter," Trump said in the White House briefing room, referring to his comments at a Fox News virtual town hall that officials could soon ease social-distancing restrictions. "I think that would be a great thing for our country, and we're all working very hard to make that a reality. ... Easter is a very special day for many reasons."

The President’s optimistic attitude toward getting America back to work after the coronavirus panic was tempered, but based on the sensible observation that much of the country was unaffected, that relatively simple infection control measures could help prevent the spread of the disease, that new treatments were showing promise and that vulnerable people could continue to be protected through quarantine measures.

Democrats were quick to oppose any plan that might minimize or mitigate the continuing economic damage to the country, with Hillary Clinton and her minions squeaking that Trump was going to kill people and implying that millions would die if America was not locked down indefinitely.

However, in our view the President has properly sensed the mood of the people and his view is supported by a substantial portion of Main Street opinion and credible academic and public health experts.

An article by Thomas L. Friedman quotes Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, an epidemiologist and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, who pointed out in a March 17 essay on statnews.com, that we still do not have a firm grasp of the population-wide fatality rate of coronavirus. A look at some of the best available evidence today, though, indicates it may be 1% and could even be lower.

“If that is the true rate,” Dr. Ioannidis wrote, “locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.”

Mr. Friedman (not a Trump supporter by the way) also ferreted out an article by Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of Yale University’s CDC-funded Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and an expert in public health and preventive medicine.

Dr. Katz wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times on Friday that caught Friedman’s eye. Dr. Katz argued that we have three goals right now: saving as many lives as we can, making sure that our medical system does not get overwhelmed — but also making sure that in the process of achieving the first two goals we don’t destroy our economy, and as a result of that, even more lives.

For all these reasons, Dr. Katz argued, we need to pivot from the “horizontal interdiction” strategy we’re now deploying — restricting the movement and commerce of the entire population, without consideration of varying risks for severe infection — to a more “surgical” or “vertical interdiction” strategy.

A surgical-vertical approach would focus on protecting and sequestering those among us most likely to be killed or suffer long-term damage by exposure to coronavirus infection — that is, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the immunologically compromised — while basically treating the rest of society the way we have always dealt with familiar threats like the flu.

The problem is that pivoting to this strategy requires Americans to take responsibility for themselves and their neighbors and family in a way that many have refused to accept during the coronavirus panic.

It would mean slobs would have to learn the civilized habits of washing their hands and protecting others when they sneeze, and it would mean that testosterone-fueled Type A personalities of both sexes would have to stop going to work or to the gym when they feel ill and that visiting Granny at the nursing home would be off limits for a good long while.

As we explained in our article “Coronavirus, Moral Knowledge And Social Distancing” one of the defects of our society’s response to this epidemic is that we seem to be substituting orders from the government for our own moral knowledge. We know traveling from a coronavirus hotspot to an unaffected area could bring the coronavirus to a new area – but we are waiting for the government to shut down travel. We know visiting vulnerable people heightens their risk and we know gathering in large closely packed crowds heightens the probability of transmission, but we do it anyway, as the pictures of the huge crowds at bars and entertainment districts demonstrate.

We agree with President Trump that America should be reopened for business sooner rather than later, but the only way for that to work is for all Americans to act upon the readily-available information on how to mitigate the transmission of this new disease to their vulnerable neighbors and family members.

We urge CHQ readers and friends to go to 15 Days To Slow The Spread, follow the guidelines, and prepare to discipline yourself to keep following the hygiene guidelines once the lockdown begins to come off.

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