What is certain is that the coming months will say a lot about the state of the country, the psyche of the public and how much death and illness it wants to accept. With so much confusing data and conflicting political messages to reopen before the November elections, there is a road map this summer to know if autumn will be a time of real recovery or increasing despair.
Here are five storylines this summer that show whether the United States has gone around the corner:
Tests and contact tracking must grow dramatically
The country’s underfunded public health system is still building tools to ensure that new infections do not reach the next hot spot. If we are lucky, the virus will not take advantage of these gaps ̵
According to the COVID Tracking Project, the US is currently performing around 400,000 tests a day, roughly twice as many as three weeks ago. But that’s still far less than the 30 million a week that some experts believe is needed to quickly identify new trouble spots and curb disease spread.
A lack of primary care such as cotton swabs that plagued early efforts to speed up testing remains a problem, said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We don’t have enough to go on, despite what the President said,” said Mina. “Anyone who says that we have a lot of tests in this country is simply wrong.”
CDC director Robert Redfield said in an interview that the US health care system has historically been underfunded and that private test laboratories such as Quest and LabCorp will be left to further increase capacity.
But even if they close the gap, contact tracking programs that identify people with whom an infected person has come into contact are still in progress, even if the governors reopen their economies and tell residents that restaurants and retail stores are safe to visit .
Redfield wants a workforce of between 30,000 and 100,000 contact tracers. But Texas is only halfway to Governor Greg Abbott’s goal of hiring 4,000. And in Colorado – one of the first states to reopen – the Association of Local Public Health Officials estimates that health officials still have to hire up to 5,000.
There are other obstacles as well: Massachusetts first found that people were inherently unwilling to answer calls from public health workers directing them to self-quarantine. And governors in Ohio and Washington state have to deal with a number of conspiracy theories that link tracing contacts to government plans to control the Americans.
The problems could continue when states lose the support of tens of thousands of state-funded National Guard troops, who run tests, track down contacts, and deliver food to people in quarantine and decontamination homes. The mission is currently scheduled to end on June 24, although the Trump administration may be giving in to Congress lobbying for an extension.
Companies have to be familiar with viruses
Companies are rapidly transforming to reassure nervous customers and employees about a safe return. However, they work with little federal guidance and face new ethical dilemmas of how far they can go to reduce the risk of infection.
Some switch to services like Venmo so customers don’t have to rely on cash, said Ashli Watts, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Auto factories require daily temperature checks and symptom questionnaires before employees can enter.
And some companies are increasingly looking for antibody tests and “immunity passes” to find out who was exposed to the virus. These tools could help employers reconfigure workplaces or make HR decisions. However, ethics experts warn that unproven technology can lead to misuse and that there are no government policies to protect privacy or prevent discrimination against individuals or disadvantaged groups.
In the short term, publicly available companies this summer expect customers to vote with their feet and avoid places where apparently no reasonable precautions are taken.
“People dip their toes back in the water and talk to friends about their experiences,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “Much of it is currently word of mouth, as opposed to general advertisements that say” We are open, we are safe “.
Consumer demand: you can open again, but will people show up?
More and more Americans are willing to venture back into an economy that has been hit by two months of stagnation, but most do not expect normalcy to return soon. This means that companies and local governments have to mitigate their expectations when the public finds out their new comfort zone.
According to Watts, restaurants in Kentucky that can only operate with a capacity of less than 33 percent are fully booked.
“There is a global case of ants in your pants,” said Hamer, which could explain why parks and beaches on both coasts are full.
However, many people across the country are unwilling to go out, even if permitted by law, and are encouraged to do so by the President. Almost three in four respondents said they avoided sporting events until a vaccine against Covid-19 was developed.
“Governors and mayors can openly state what they want to their state or city, but ultimately the consumer decides,” said Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “And they’ll make the decision based on their reading of the news, science, and personal risk. So there’s certainly a tension in that.”
In Georgia, which reopened its economy three weeks ago, bowling alley and barber shop business has not returned to the pre-pandemic level, but is slowly increasing.
Leading public health officials warn of a false sense of security and note that the number of cases is decreasing in part due to the very social detachment measures that some governors no longer consider necessary.
“There are mixed messages about risk,” said Theresa Anselmo, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials. “People say we have to get the economy going and people have to work again – which means the risk isn’t as high as it was before.” But there is just as much risk, if not more. “
How will Trump report the crisis?
Although around 20,000 new infections are reported daily, Trump has repeatedly pushed for faster reopening, believing that his re-election opportunities depend on a rapid economic recovery. He called for schools to be reopened against the advice of his senior health officials, and for citizens to be “warriors” when he returned to work. However, it could be more difficult to maintain this stance when the virus rebounds.
While the president has generally praised the tracing of contacts, he and many senior officials have not explained where they fit in with the broad response or have encouraged Americans to participate.
Harvards Allen set out the type of news that would make a difference for the commander-in-chief: “If everyone follows these things and does their best in the coming months, we will step up our scientific efforts and mobilize the whole country and do it together – everyone has their role to play, ”he said.