The New York Times revealed Monday that there is an internal document circulating the federal government, courtesy of the disaster-preparation-and-response folks at FEMA. And according to this document, coronavirus cases are scheduled to skyrocket in the coming weeks just as states are beginning to ease shutdown restrictions across the country. The FEMA document projects that new cases will far exceed the number that White House officials are using in their models and that it will almost double the daily COVID-19 death toll by the end of May.
In a statement, however, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said that the document has not been vetted by or even presented to the Coronavirus Task Force.
“This is not a White House document nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting,” Deere said. “This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed.”
That the document exists is beyond dispute; its existence has been confirmed by both the Times, Fox News, and several other reporting agencies. Fox’s sources have said that much of the data included in the document originated at the Centers for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins University. The data concludes that the U.S. will see a sharp rise in new infections in the coming weeks with 200,000 new cases every day by the end of the month. This will also mean that 3,000 Americans will die daily from the coronavirus.
In his statement, Deere said that the Trump administration’s guidelines for reopening the economy are based on a “scientific driven approach” that has the approval of leading public health experts.
“The health of the American people remains President Trump’s top priority and that will continue as we monitor the efforts by states to ease restrictions,” he said.
In remarks to the Times, Dr. Larry Chang of Johns Hopkins said there was little reason to believe that the last two months of social-distancing had done anything to make reopening safer than it was in mid-March.
“The vast majority of Americans have not been exposed to the virus, there is not immunity, and the initial conditions that allowed this virus to spread really quickly across America haven’t really changed,” said Chang.
Well, that’s really the whole thing, isn’t it? Because the same will be true if we wait to get back to work in early June. Or early July. Or mid-November. No matter how long we sit in our homes and let our economy go to waste, the coronavirus spike will be waiting for us on the other side. Yes, it would be nice to have more widespread testing, but that doesn’t appear to be on the way for whatever reason. And we’re extremely skeptical, anyway, that all the testing in the world can actually lead to the sort of contact-tracing that experts are ruminating about. This is a big country with millions of people interacting from coast to coast. What kind of testing regimen could really contain this outbreak?
Our best bet at this point – and maybe the only real choice we have – is to get back to work, start spending money again, and use the best available precautions as we do so. The elderly and those with health conditions should do what they need to do to stay safe. The rest of us should keep washing our hands, avoiding crowds, and wearing masks as appropriate.
Is it an ideal way forward? Not hardly. But until someone has a better idea, it’s certainly preferable to adding a Great Depression on top of our already-bad situation.