Early Openings Could Backfire
Last updated 4/22/2020 at 3:44pm
Earlier this week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that several types of businesses – gyms, nail and hair salons, tattoo parlors, etc. – in that state would be reopening Friday with restaurants and theaters able to open Monday. Kemp made the decision despite the fact that it runs counter to the federal guidelines that states see two weeks of decreasing deaths and new cases before reopening. On Monday Georgia had 828 new cases – its second consecutive day of increases – and 85 COVID-19 deaths, its deadliest day yet. Georgia has not passed its peak.
A few other governors also have announced plans to reopen certain businesses this week.
Everyone understands the desire to allow businesses to reopen and people who have lost their jobs or been furloughed to return to work; however, by ignoring the federal guidelines, they are increasing the chance of spreading COVID-19 and doing greater harm, both medically and economically, than if they held off reopening for another two to four weeks.
“Clearly this (COVID-19) is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics and the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus. But unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News. “So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back. So as painful as it is to go by the careful guidelines of gradually phasing into a reopening, it’s gonna backfire (if you don’t). That’s the problem.”
According to Fauci, the U.S. needs to at least double, and probably triple, its testing, which could be done within the next few weeks.
Even when states begin to meet the federal guidelines, they should reopen slowly and selectively with the realization that if they do not, they could make a bad situation worse.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, understands just how tenuous the balance is between reopening businesses and public health as she announced plans last week to begin reopening certain businesses.
“What we’ve achieved is an interim success — no more, no less,” she said. “And I stress that it is a fragile interim success.”
Just how fragile is that success? According to Merkel, the current infection rate in Germany is 1.0 (one person with COVID-19 will infect one other person). However, if that infection rate increases just slightly to 1.1, the German health care system would reach its capacity in October. If it becomes 1.2 (five infected people infect six others), the system would reach capacity in July. With a 1.3 infection rate, Germany would reach its limit in June.
“So you can see how small our leeway is. The entire development rests on having a number of infections that we can keep track of and trace,” she said. “If we now allow more public life, in small steps, then it is very important that we can trace infections chains even better. That must be our aim: to trace every infection chain.”
As a country, German has been far ahead of the U.S. in testing, tracing and treating. It also has enough ICU beds and PPE (personal protective equipment) that it has been able to take into its hospitals COVID-19 patients from nearby countries.
Yet, the Germans are very cautiously reopening society. The first businesses to open have been small shops – bookstores and bike stores – as well as car dealerships. The number of customers is limited with no long lines outside. They are recommending people wear face masks in enclosed public areas and are still maintaining strict social distancing, banning groups of more than two people from different households. Every two weeks the government will review the statistics to see if it should ease, tighten or maintain restrictions.
We understand the desire to reopen our society, but if we reopen to soon and too indiscriminately, the coronavirus could spread more widely and do even greater damage to our health and economy. Given the availability of $600 per week federal unemployment checks, as well as state unemployment and $1,200 checks to Americans making less than $75,000 a year, most of us should be able to sustain ourselves financially for another few weeks to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.