How many deaths are acceptable to reopen the country before the coronavirus is completely eradicated? “One is too many,” President Donald Trump insists, a politically safe formulation that any leader would instinctively articulate.
But that is not the reality of Trump’s reopen-soon approach. Nor for that matter will it be the bottom line for even those governors who want to go slower. Until there is a vaccine or a cure for the coronavirus, the macabre truth is that any plan to begin restoring public life invariably means trading away some lives. The question is how far will leaders go to keep it to a minimum.
Some of the more provocative voices on the political right say that with tens of millions of Americans out of work and businesses collapsing, some people must be sacrificed for the greater good of restoring the economy quickly. To many, that sounds unthinkable, but less inflammatory experts and policymakers also acknowledge that there are enormous costs to keeping so much of the workforce idle, with many of the unemployed struggling to pay for food, shelter or medical care for other health challenges.
And so the nation’s leaders are left with the excruciating dilemma of figuring out how to balance life and livelihood on a scale unseen in generations. “Every governor in the nation is asking that,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, where 2,700 have died and more than 1 million have lost jobs, said this week. “There’s no such thing as zero risk in the world in which we’re living. But we know that not taking measures to control the spread means that’s going to translate into lives lost.”
With no cure available for the coronavirus and no vaccine likely for another year or more, governors in hard-hit states are seeking ways to minimize the number of additional deaths by staging and structuring any reopening. Time and testing are key, according to public health experts. The longer a quarantine can be extended the better, they say, and the more testing made available, the easier it would be to properly calibrate a reopening and respond to any new outbreak.