Terry H. Schwadron
April 16, 2020
What passes for actual public discussion and policy-making about “re-opening” already is proving to be just as stressful as fear of disease and shutdown altogether. That we’re spinning our wheels having to deal with a temper-tantrum White House just makes it worse.
The encouraging news so far: Most of the discussions and leaks of information among regional governor groups, single governors, various task forces and so forth seem to be coalescing around medical principles to ensure that we don’t go back just to start all over again with needed lockdowns.
But they are just principles, and not practical plans. We have no idea what any of this yet will mean for a region or a single state or community, let alone the nation.
Americans seem to be much bigger on talk than on creating effective systems for health.
As with the trillion-dollar aid packages that were said to be built around keeping “small businesses” afloat, the myriad and varied loopholes written into these laws still end up unduly favoring banks, big companies, real estate developers and hedge funds and fossil fuel companies.
It is troubling to learn each day that those $1,200 checks to allow individuals to buy food and pay rent legally can be diverted or reduced by banks to pay outstanding debts, for example. Or that there are special exemptions in place to assure that companies that look like the Trump Organization or Jared Kushner’s family holdings can pony up at the federal trough for aid.
And, as an example of how confusing all this is: That strange car-parade protest in Michigan by those identifying as Donald Trump fans yelled that stay-at-home has simply gone on too long and is a step too far — something seeming that Trump himself favors in appropriate hotspot areas.
So, when it comes to sending aid to big companies with the promise of keeping employees on the payroll and effectively opening up anytime soon, color me skeptical.
His moronic statements about “Total Authority” aside, Donald Trump’s enthusiasm about moving to re-open the economy in as many as 20 states within the next three or four weeks seems to be outrunning the practical planning that the medical folks can supply or fulfill. The Centers for Disease Control and FEMA, the emergency services agency, have only very general guidance for a gradual plan. They would start with a communications campaign and community readiness program, ramp up testing equipment and manufacture of protective equipment, and, of course, a lot more government money. “Then staged re-openings would begin, depending on local conditions,” the plan says.
Well, no kidding. That’s the whole point.
We don’t have testing in place, we’re still scrambling for protective equipment, we’re arguing along partisan lines about what qualifies for emergency spending and how much, and most localities have their hands full with the issues of dealing with actual disease.
Or they have leaders who think there is not really much of a problem still out there.
Unfortunately, that seems to include Donald Trump.
Here is what the CDC advice says that re-opening communities in a phased approach “will entail a significant risk of resurgence of the virus.” Any reopening must meet four conditions:
— Incidence of infection is “genuinely low.”
— A “well-functioning” monitoring system capable of “promptly detecting any increase in incidence” of infection.
— A public health system that is “reacting robustly” to all cases of covid-19 and has surge capacity to react to an increase in cases.
— A health system that has enough inpatient beds and staffing to rapidly scale up and deal with a surge in cases.
While medical personnel may embrace the general goals, it seems clear that there is little agreement that half the country meets this definition — despite the desires of the White House to be otherwise. So, we can expect that Trump will dismiss the idea of medical risk, or announced a general belief in the corona fairy, or will just ask Americans to accept several thousands of more deaths. He will dismiss critical questions or rewrite history and facts to support his propagandistic view of the crisis.
The economy — and Trump’s perceived reelection expectations — are simply too important to do otherwise.
The principles for re-opening announced by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in seem more realistic, and start with a so-far unmet requirement for tons more disease and immunity testing. They also set expectations lower, suggesting that restaurants, for example, might have to open with only half their tables.
Newsom also makes clear that employers will have a big responsibility in creating the working conditions that are safe in these contagious times. Cuomo added another complicating factor, suggesting that businesses would be allowed to open in order of their necessity without describing how we might value, say, restoring the Metropolitan Opera and its employees against a toy manufacturer.
The federal government, by contrast, is actively telling employers that they will not have to report incidents of coronavirus until it becomes obvious through public reporting, as in the South Dakota meat-packing plant that reported 500 positive coronavirus tests this week and shut for a quarantine and deep-cleaning period.
If we are serious about re-opening, we would be ensuring contracts in place for tons more protective equipment, we would be working with labor unions as well as companies about worker protections, and we would be hiring a huge number of new government employees to pursue testing and contact tracing.
Instead, we seem to be doing this on magic dust.
With all these ideas, it is easier to recognize the medical holes than to understand how either the White House or state and local leaders are going to be able to distinguish between allowing a jewelry store, a boutique clothing store or a manufacturing plant to open.
These plans do not show how opening the economy in one town in Nebraska is going to lift the U.S. economy to its prior state.
The realistic plan will be much more sober for this president and the next one.