President Trump abandoned his reckless speculation about going back to work by Easter and wisely extended the federal government’s pandemic guidance through April. Mr. Trump properly announced this unpleasant news personally on Sunday and acknowledged much higher estimates of the possible death toll. Since December, too much time has been squandered. Now, the month ahead must be well spent — with action.
The diversity of U.S. political leadership is normally a strength, but in recent days too many governors and others have balked at taking the strong measures necessary to combat the coronavirus. Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, has not issued a statewide shutdown, while Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas declared “let’s get back to work” and “let’s get back to living.” Mr. Trump, having traveled his own journey on this question, ought to immediately and forcefully insist that governors and other elected officials follow his guidance, order people to engage in social distancing, and close nonessential businesses and workplaces.
There is no room for a patchwork response. Without restrictions in place, what’s happening in New York City today will be in Miami, Detroit or Chicago tomorrow. A few irresponsible politicians can undermine recovery for everyone. The only way to break the chains of coronavirus transmission is for the entire country to engage in physical distancing until the pandemic abates or an effective vaccine or therapy is ready. A piecemeal approach invites a raging, rolling pandemic.
Next, Mr. Trump must put in charge the commanders who can oversee this life-and-death war, both for the immediate crisis and for planning the eventual easing of restrictions. Today, chaos reigns over supply chains. States, health-care systems and manufacturers are urging high-level federal help to allocate supplies to those who require them urgently. In a time of shortage, lifesaving equipment should not be going to the highest bidders or those with the chummiest White House ties.
Down the road, the reopening will require a delicate state-by-state choreography in which jurisdictions could begin to relax after 14 days of steady reduction in daily case numbers, as former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb and colleagues outlined in a report for the American Enterprise Institute. The jurisdictions will have to be able to diagnose, treat and isolate covid-19 cases and their contacts. This will require U.S. testing capability to ramp up rapidly; same-day, point-of-care diagnostic tests and results; sufficient intensive-care beds and ventilators to care for the sick; and adequate personal protective equipment for health-care workers. Dr. Gottlieb also suggests a task force to study the use of serology testing at scale to identify the immune, who likely could rejoin the workforce without risk. All of this is going to require an immense amount of investment, planning, personnel and logistics, as well as skilled leadership, on the order of nothing ever seen in public health in the past century.
It will be a tragic failure if complacency turns the United States into a playground for the coronavirus, allowing it to leap for months from one infected population to ignite outbreaks in another. The coming weeks may well be the last chance to shape a better outcome.
— THE WASHINGTON POST