This week we’ve had a flurry of views on the steps we as a nation – and as states and groupings of states – should take after the pandemic, which, with a noteworthy lack of terrible news this week, is probably leveling off. Some called themselves “plans,” but they weren’t really, though all had worthwhile points.
First was “Joe Biden: My Plan to Safely Reopen America,” in the April 12th New York Times. Our Democratic contender, as of yesterday evening listed as a 6 to 5 election underdog against Donald Trump in sportsbook.ag, put forth more of a campaign statement than a course of action. He had the right main idea, though, that “the plan has to start with responding effectively to the immediate medical crisis and ultimately lead to the widespread availability and administration of a vaccine,” something consistently mentioned in these articles but not enough in previous weeks. Per Biden, “social distancing has to continue” (yes), and as “things will not go back to “normal” right away” (something also previously missing), “we should expect activity to resume gradually, with sites like offices and stores reopening before arenas and theaters.” While “restaurants may need new layouts” and “offices and factories will need to space out workers,” those changes need not be permanent. A proposal in Robert Epstein’s responding letter that “self-testing… would allow the uninfected Americans… to return to work and school immediately” is unworkable as it would depend on almost every exception to know and be honest about their status.
In the same publication the next day, Jim Tankersley told us that “Economic Pain Will Persist Long After Lockdowns End.” He mentioned the absolute need for a vaccine, that government edicts will not restart the economy all by themselves as “unemployment claims rose and restaurant reservations vanished even before the lockdown orders hit,” and the same thing will happen again with individual judgments dictating caution, as, per U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Suzanne Clark, “you can’t just turn the light switch on and have everyone go back to work.”
Also on April 13th, we learned that “(Dr. Anthony) Fauci says ‘rolling reentry’ of US economy possible in May” (Fox Business). Past the headline, the article more accurately clarified that as “parts of the U.S. could reopen and get back to business as early as next month.” Vague, but if the number of new cases is not only consistently declining but low in some places, those could move forward. Yet all should understand that Wyoming opening restaurants does not mean New Yorkers should plan on attending Yankees games.
The next day we went back to other motives with Thomas L. Friedman’s New York Times “Post-Pandemic, Here’s How America Rises Again.” The columnist’s affection for non-oil energy ran through this piece, but he also emphasized the need for the entire country to have high-speed Internet, something overdue if not strictly pertinent to the recovery. His third idea of “deployment across America of more affordable tools of invention, design and manufacturing” was, even when given a page later, unclear and of little value. No plan here either.
Also in the Times on the 14th, Julie Bosman’s “U.S. Governors, at Center of Virus Response, Weigh What It Will Take to Reopen States” quoted those from Oregon, Illinois, Mississippi, Massachusetts, California, New York and more with their insights, best from California’s Gavin Newsom for saying “normal it will not be, at least until we have herd immunity and a vaccine.” Some states and groupings of them are working out what might be called pre-plans, such as six from Delaware to Massachusetts “by an improvised think-tank-like team with three representatives… from each state.” Overall, the governors seemed sober, patient, and realistic, and a “Frequently Asked Question” after the piece correctly said that “when will this end?” was “a difficult question” that could not now be answered.
A third article in the same place that day had Gail Collins and Bret Stephens kicking around “We’re Not Going Back to Normal, but What Can We Go Back To?.” Nothing much new here, but yet again we see the perception, from Stephens, that “there won’t be any going back to normal until we have a vaccine or effective medication.” He also called for “wide-scale antibody testing,” for the benefit of the testees, and quarantining those with the infection. Basic, but worthwhile. That was much the same idea of the concurrent USA Today “2 coronavirus tests hold the key to reopening America from pandemic lockdown,” namely the do-you-have-it ones long available but of limited value as those testing negative can become positive later on, and the antibody assessment, “a version of which has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”
The most detailed set of information on how to recover was in “Coronavirus recovery: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt weighs in on rebuilding economy” (Fox Business, April 15th). This one-time major corporate leader gave us a mixed bag, getting fooled by mass unemployment’s chance to “be avoided through job retraining and reskilling” and by “jobs being created by virtue of the digital platforms” being a significant factor, but also named “a broadly available vaccine and herd immunity” as preconditions for normalcy, and that reopening schools, “because we don’t fully understand the transmission path with kids and their parents and especially their grandparents,” would be especially problematic. Schmidt also recommended that governors seek expertise from universities as well as at corporations.
Finally, on the same date’s Fox News, we saw Dom Calicchio’s “Social distancing may be needed, on and off, until 2022: Harvard study.” I think the vaccine, when distributed, would put an end to that, but this piece ends with something else underemphasized. Per epidemiologist Micharl Osterholm, “people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years.” That, important for our mental health as well as our logistics, is where I end this week.