The fight against the coronavirus won’t be over when the U.S. reopens. Here’s how the nation must prepare itself.
What a difference a few months can make.
In January, the United States watched as the new coronavirus blazed through China and reached American shores. In February, hindered by an unexpected failure to roll out diagnostic tests and an administration that had denuded itself of scientific expertise, the nation sat largely idle while the pandemic spread within its borders.
In March, as the virus launched several simultaneous assaults on a perilously stretched-thin health-care system, America finally sputtered into action, frantically closing offices, schools, and public spaces in a bid to cut off chains of transmission. Now, in April, as viral fevers surge through American hospitals and cabin fever grows in American homes, the U.S. has cemented itself as the new center of the pandemic — the country that should have been more prepared than any other, but that now has the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world.
What will May bring? Or June? What happens as this seemingly interminable spring rolls into a precarious summer? When will things go back to normal?
The options are limited. Early inaction left the U.S. with too many new cases, and just one recourse: Press a societal pause button to buy enough time for beleaguered hospitals to steel themselves for a sharp influx in patients. This physical-distancing strategy is working, but at such an economic cost that it can’t be sustained indefinitely. When restrictions relax, as they are set to do on April 30, the coronavirus will likely surge back, as it is now doing in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Asian states that had briefly restrained it.
As I wrote last month, the only viable endgame is to play whack-a-mole with the coronavirus, suppressing it until a vaccine can be produced. With luck, that will take 18 to 24 months. During that time, new outbreaks will probably arise. Much about that period is unclear, but the dozens of experts whom I have interviewed agree that life as most people knew it cannot fully return. “I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “This is about the next two years”…
Read the full essay by Ed Yong in The Atlantic here: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/pandemic-summer-coronavirus-reopening-back-normal/609940/