Rapid reopenings present clear danger to public health

With most of the country beginning to feel cabin fever after a month of coronavirus-induced self-isolation, it’s no surprise that many business leaders and government officials are beginning to look towards re-opening. The economy is in free fall, tens of millions of people are without work, and the mental toll of lockdown has begun to set in.

These damages to mental and economic health have, in some cases, undermined stay-at-home orders and recommendations from epidemiologists. Some citizens have done so actively, staging protests outside state capitol buildings and governor’s mansions.

Academic and financial leaders, reeling from February’s stock market crash, have put their calls in the mainstream as well. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Free America Now,” in reference to the protests against state governments. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, President of Brown University Christina Paxson wrote of how opening campuses in the fall should be a “national priority.”

State leaders like Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia have also flounted White House recommendations on re-opening, opting to allow restaurants and barber shops to open without meaningful restriction. Additionally, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick recently said that there were “more important things than living.” 

One has to wonder why, in a country as prosperous as the United States, saving lives isn’t a national priority. Our country is behind in testing, meaning reopening is close to impossible, and a vaccine for COVID-19 developed.

The juxtaposition, for example, of a president of one of the world’s most prestigious universities urging a decision as ill-informed as reopening without a vaccine or  is striking. One cannot expect thousands of students from across the country to conglomerate on a small campus, pile into dorm rooms two or three at a time, and expect the virus to not spread like wildfire.

In the present, plans on reopening are built entirely on selfishness. CEOs like Musk want to avoid missing key shipping dates, even if it means his employees would be at a significantly higher chance of death. College leaders like Paxson don’t want to miss out on full tuition payments, despite endowments of universities like hers totaling in the billions of dollars. Politicians like Kemp know their re-election chances rely heavily upon a strong economy.

We all want to get back to normal, but as a nation, we have to realize that we are far and away the epicenter of this pandemic. Wearing a mask, conducting fever tests and exercising social distancing are all good precautions to take, but can’t be used as a duct-tape solution to allow large gatherings.

It’s critical that we don’t succumb to political and economic pressure during this time. We shouldn’t reopen until we know we’re ready. Namely, we need to show that we can rapidly test at unprecedented capacities and that development on a vaccine is steady.

A recent Harvard study suggested that the United States must be able to conduct 5 million tests daily. According to CNN estimates, total tests for COVID-19 are 6.7 million over the last 3 months.

Has anything truly changed since February? No, and it’s time we stop acting like it has. If we went completely back to normal, we would see a second wave of the virus immediately. 

Those advocating for the re-opening of the economy have some merit in their arguments. Yes, the unemployment crisis we will face will probably be worse than the Great Depression. The economic pain felt by millions will be devastating.

But, it’s also true that many will die with a reopening that isn’t thought out. It’s time for President Trump to use the Defense Production Act to nationalize the production of testing kits in order to reach the minimum amount needed to open and continue funding the World Health Organization. It’s time for Congress to increase funding for the development for a vaccine. And, for citizens, it’s time we take the advice of apolitical medical professionals seriously.

America will get through this because we have the determination to do so. We all want the rain to stop raining on our parade. But, that doesn’t give us an excuse to leave home without an umbrella.