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 disease it is willing to accept. With so much confusing data and contradictory political announcements about the reopening before the November elections, there is a roadmap to be followed this summer to know if the fall will be a time of real recovery or deeper despair.
Here are five stories this summer that will reveal if the US has turned the corner:
Test and contact tracking must grow dramatically
The United States now runs about 400,000 tests a day, about twice as much as three weeks ago, according to the COVID Tracking Project. But it is still well below the $ 30 million per week that some experts say is necessary to quickly detect new hotspots and contain the spread of disease.
A lack of basic supplies such as cotton swabs that plagued early efforts to increase testing is still a problem, says Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We don’t have enough to move forward, despite what the president says,” Mina said. “Whoever says we have plenty of testing in this country is just wrong.”
CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview that the US public health system has historically been underfunded and that it will be left to private test labs like Quest and LabCorp to continue to increase capacity.
But even if they pick up the slack, tracking programs that identify people that an infected person came into contact with are still ongoing work, even as governors move to reopen their economies and tell residents that restaurants and retail businesses are safe to visit.
Redfield wants a workforce of between 30,000 and 100,000 contact trackers. But Texas is only halfway to Gov. 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 public health departments still need to employ as many as 5,000.
There are other barriers: Massachusetts initially found that people were not naturally inclined to make calls from public health workers who instructed them to quarantine. And governors in the state of Ohio and Washington have to contend with a rash of conspiracy theories that link contact tracking to the government’s plot to control Americans.
The problems may continue if states drop the support tens of thousands of federally-funded troops from the National Guard who have done tests, contact tracking and delivered food to quarantined and sanitized nursing homes. The distribution is currently scheduled to end on June 24, though the Trump administration may be giving in to the congressional lobby for an extension.
Companies must show their virus experts
Companies are rapidly transforming to reassure nervous customers and employees about a secure return. But they work with some federal guidance and confront new ethical dilemmas about 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, says Ashli Watts, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Car manufacturing facilities require daily temperature checks and supplementation of symptom questionnaires before employees can enter.
And some companies are increasingly looking at antibody tests and “immunity passports” to know who has been exposed to the virus. These tools can help employers configure workplaces or make decisions about staff. But ethics experts warn that there is potential for abuse with unproven technology and a lack of government guidelines on how to protect integrity or avoid discrimination against individuals or disadvantaged groups.
In the short term, public companies expect this summer that customers will vote with their feet and reject those places that do not appear to take appropriate precautions.
“People are dropping their toes back in the water and talking to friends about their experience,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “Much of it is word of mouth right now, as opposed to broad ads that say ‘we’re open, we’re safe.’ “
Consumer demand: You can open again, but will people show up?
A growing number of Americans are ready to venture into an economy that has been hit by two months of closures, but most do not expect to return to normalcy soon. This means that companies and local authorities must temper their expectations when the public looks into their new comfort zone.
Watts said restaurants in Kentucky that can only work with less than 33 percent capacity are booked solid.
“There’s a global case of ants in your pants,” Hamer said, which may explain why parks and beaches on both coasts have been packed.
Still, many people around the country are reluctant to go out even though they are legally allowed and encouraged by the president to do so. Nearly three out of four respondents to a survey said they plan to avoid sporting events until there is a vaccine for Covid-19.
“Governors and mayors can declare their state or city open to businesses all they want, but ultimately the consumer decides,” said Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “And they will make the decision based on their reading of the news, the science and their personal risk. So there’s really some excitement there. “
In Georgia, which reopened its economy three weeks ago, business in bowling alleys and barbershops has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s slowly picking up.
Leading public health officials warn of a false sense of security, noting that the accounts are falling in part because of the very social distance measures that some governors now say are no longer necessary.
“There are mixed messages about the risk,” said Theresa Anselmo, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials. “People say that we have to get started with the economy and that people have to go back to work – which means that there is not as much risk as before. But there is just as much risk, if not more. “
How will Trump announce the crisis?
Despite about 20,000 new infections being reported each day, Trump has repeatedly called for faster reopens, and believes his chances of reelection are dependent on a rapid economic recovery. He urged schools to reopen to the advice of their top health officials and urged citizens to be “warriors” when they return to work. But that attitude may be more difficult to maintain if the virus recovers.
While the president has praised contact tracking in broad terms, he and many top administrative officials have not explained where it fits into the broad response or encouraged Americans to participate.
Harvard Allen outlined the kind of messages that would make a difference to the boss’s chief: “If everyone follows these things and does their best for the coming months, we will increase our scientific efforts and the whole country will mobilize and get through this together. – everyone has their role to play, he said.