Reopening U.S. economy by May 1 may be unrealistic
Public health experts on Sunday debated the question of when to reopening portions of the U.S. economy, shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, with several Trump administration officials cautioning that a target date of May 1 — floated by President Trump, among others — may not be realistic.
“It is a target, and, obviously, we’re hopeful about that target, but I think it’s just too early to be able to tell that we see light at the end of the tunnel,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “I think it’s just too early for us to say whether May 1 is that date.”
The comments by Hahn and other officials came on Easter, when the number of confirmed cases in the United States stood at more than 550,000 and the number of deaths reached more than 21,000. They also came as news spread that one of those who died after being infected was a billionaire donor and personal friend of Trump, New York real estate developer Stanley Chera.
The overall picture of the virus’s toll remained devastating over the holiday weekend.
In New York state, the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, the death toll approached 10,000. The Navajo Nation implemented a 57-hour weekend curfew as cases in the hardest-hit part of Indian Country neared 700. And even as Pope Francis spoke in a mostly empty St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, one pastor in Louisiana pressed ahead with an Easter service that drew hundreds of people, defying the warnings of the governor and local police.
Some experts, such as Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, argued Sunday that rather than a sudden reopening of the entire country, the United States should institute a “rolling reentry” into normal life depending on the conditions in different regions.
“It is not going to be a light switch,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It is going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak you’ve already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced.”
The transition could “probably start, at least in some ways, maybe next month,” Fauci said. But he noted that there is also a possibility that the virus will make a resurgence later in the year.
Fauci also said a stronger response by the administration to the outbreak “could have saved lives,” but while characterizing the decision to implement social distancing guidelines as “complicated.”
The measured comments by Fauci provoked an outcry among right-wing commentators online, with one former Republican congressional candidate tweeting it was “Time to #FireFauci.”
Trump retweeted the comments, a practice he has often done in the past to show his anger with critics within his own administration rather than directly commenting himself.
The president has pushed for reopening the country, an effort that Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, voiced caution about, warning that lifting all restrictions next month would probably mean that “by July or August, we could be back in the same situation we are now.”
“Maybe some states can open up mid-May,” Murray, the creator of one of the most widely cited coronavirus models, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “But we have to be very careful and make sure that we don’t sort of lose all the effort that the American people have put into closures by premature opening.”
One governor put the choice facing the country in stark terms.
“I fear if we open up too early . . . that we could be pouring gasoline on the fire,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said on CNN. He added: “Right now, the house is on fire, and job number one is to put the fire out.”
Not all governors are in agreement, however. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Friday that he plans to issue an executive order this week addressing strategies for how to reopen the state’s businesses.
“We will focus on protecting lives while restoring livelihoods,” Abbott said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “We can and we must do this. We can do both.”
Trump has been pushing for resuming business activity by May 1, people familiar with the discussions have told The Washington Post, and several Cabinet secretaries have in recent days publicly expressed hope that restrictions could be at least partially eased next month.
News of Chera’s death was reported Saturday by the Real Deal, a publication that covers the New York real estate industry. A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about it, confirmed Chera’s death and friendship with Trump. At a White House briefing last month, Trump described a friend who was “a little older” and “heavy” who was in a coma with the virus. That friend was Chera, Vanity Fair reported.
While the federal government does have the power to make recommendations, the ultimate decision on whether to reopen is up to each state. The current federal guidance to avoid social gatherings and work from home expires at the end of April.
Public health experts say that for the economy to be safely reopened, certain steps will need to be taken first. Among other things, the United States should mount a large-scale effort to identify people who have been in contact with the infected and conduct widespread testing, and it should build up health-care capacity. Because the virus has a 14-day incubation period, experts also say that states should refrain from moving toward relaxing their restrictions until they have seen a sustained reduction in new cases for at least that long.
The president remained out of the public eye on Sunday, his second straight day without any scheduled events or a coronavirus task force meeting. But in a video shared on his Twitter account, he extended Easter greetings and encouraged Americans that one day soon, “we’ll be back together in churches right next to each other.”
“Right now, we’re keeping separation,” Trump said. “We’re getting rid of the plague. It’s a plague on our country like nobody’s ever seen. But we’re winning the battle. We’re winning the war.”
Later, Trump tweeted that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman about a tentative deal for members of OPEC, Russia and a handful of other oil-producing nations to cut production in May and June.
Trump’s likely Democratic opponent in the general election, former vice president Joe Biden, unveiled his own proposal for combating the pandemic and reopening the country. He echoed the guidance of several experts on issues such as testing, hospital readiness and contact tracing. He also sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response.
“As we prepare to reopen America, we have to remember what this crisis has taught us: The administration’s failure to plan, to prepare, to honestly assess and communicate the threat to the nation led to catastrophic results,” Biden wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times. “We cannot repeat those mistakes.”
While most Americans stayed away from church on Sunday, Pastor Tony Spell, who leads Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge, planned to host 2,000 during two Easter services, he told the Wall Street Journal. However, Central Police Department Chief Roger Corcoran stood outside the church and said not nearly that many attended. He counted about 330 people go in to the morning service.
Corcoran has already charged Spell with at least six counts of violating shutdown orders, which is a misdemeanor, but will still report that Spell held another two services to the district attorney, he said, which may result in the court charging Spell for two more counts. Spell has said that he would sue Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and any police officer who tried to arrest him.
Across the Atlantic, there was some good news as Italy and France reported a decline in coronavirus-related deaths and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from a London hospital nearly a week after entering the intensive care unit.
Those developments were tempered, however, by U.K. health department figures showing 737 deaths in the previous 24 hours, raising Britain’s official death toll above 10,000. And Russia reported its largest spike in new cases since the beginning of the outbreak, with 2,186 new cases confirmed in the past day.
With the next steps for the United States still uncertain, a special envoy to the World Health Organization said Sunday that the public health community is “still very much on high alert,” even as some countries see positive results from mitigation efforts.
“The virus is still advancing in other parts of the world,” David Nabarro said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” He added: “We think it’s going to be a virus that stalks the human race for quite a long time to come, until we can all have a vaccine that will protect us.”
Source: washington post