Public health officials, scholars, and financial experts are calling for a massive increase in U.S. coronavirus testing, saying that it is imperative that the nation avoid the longterm financial catastrophe that would be caused by a prolonged shutdown.
While President Trump has taken heat for his optimistic hopes for getting the U.S. back to work by the middle of April, those who know the situation best say that financial collapse and a second Great Depression would be even more devastating for life and liberty than the coronavirus.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post on Monday, academics from Princeton, Cornell, and Virginia Tech said it was imperative for American officials to find a middle path between “severe isolation” and “intermittent isolation.” But they argue that without a massive rollout of testing, the U.S. really has no clear idea of who has the virus and who doesn’t. Until we have those hard numbers, it will be difficult if not impossible to open the economy back up.
“The United States now likely confronts two disastrous and unsustainable scenarios. One is to keep the country in severe isolation for the next year or more until a coronavirus vaccine can be developed. The other is to return to occasional periods of something like normal life, to be followed by intermittent isolations to knock back new outbreaks,” the researchers wrote.
“Under either option,” they continued, “the suppression of spending will plunge the economy into a deep recession, and even directly ordered business closures will mean tens of millions unemployed. Even with intermittent isolation, hospitals would likely be overwhelmed and many people would die.”
To avoid either of these scenarios, the academics write, we need to unleash a program that tests nearly everyone in the country. This will include a massive ramp-up of the current “you have the coronavirus or you don’t” tests, which are still in drastically short supply, and it will also include a second serology test, which can analyze antibodies to determine if you’ve had the coronavirus and recovered.
“With enough of both kinds of tests, a variety of complementary strategies would be possible,” note the researchers. “Because live disease carriers would be more readily identified, it would be easier to trace and test their contacts and to quarantine the infected, particularly if a period of high isolation now greatly lowers infection rates.”
It is clear that we have to start thinking outside the box. Getting back to “normal” right now is not an option, no matter how bad the economy might get. Nor is it an option to simply stay in isolation for the next three to six months. Even if we did, wouldn’t the virus just ramp back up the moment we all went back to school and work?
Only by getting an accurate, clear picture of what the infection map looks like can we make responsible decisions about how to move forward. This should now be Congress’s number one priority.