A healthy United States needs a healthy economy: Devine

USA

It probably wasn’t the best time to talk about restarting the economy, as we enter a week that Surgeon General Jerome Adams says will be the “hardest and the saddest” for most Americans.

But President Trump was right Saturday to say that the “cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. We got to get this country open.”

We need a pandemic exit plan, even if the virus has other ideas.

Figuring out what to do next is why a second coronavirus task force focused on reopening the economy makes sense — an idea floated in a tweet by Fox News commentator Dana Perino to which Trump responded enthusiastically.

But the last thing we need is some sort of face-off between the two task forces in which aggressive hedge-fund types outmuscle gentle medicos such as Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.

Birx said over the weekend that she doesn’t even want us to go grocery shopping, and Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that, “we are struggling to get [the virus] under control.”

But we can’t keep the economy on life support forever. We can’t wait 12 months for a vaccine which may never come. We still don’t have a vaccine for HIV or SARS.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested a strategy in which “younger people can go back to work … people who can get this antibody test — show they have had the virus and resolved — can go back to work.”

The British and Italians have floated the idea of an “immunity passport” for people who have developed antibodies to COVID-19 that would allow them to return to their jobs.

But young people also can become ill and die, and we don’t know enough about the disease’s after-effects. For example, the loss of smell associated with an infection may be part of the virus’ unknown effect on the brain, and other neurological symptoms are being reported in some patients.

Smart people are thinking through these problems.

A four-part plan to reopen the economy was published last week by the American Enterprise Institute. Co-written by former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb, “Road Map to Reopening,” requires testing 1.9 million people for early-outbreak identification, something they say that can be achieved in 2¹/₂ weeks.

Then, once we have the hospital capacity and medical treatments to deal with new infections, America can reopen state by state, while safeguarding the old and infirm. A state could leave lockdown after “a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.”

But Gottlieb’s plan requires an even sharper lockdown than we have now in order to choke off the virus. For example, he calls for quarantine facilities to prevent spread within families.

He also advocates wearing masks.

We were lied to about the efficacy of masks by the World Health Organization and our own experts, presumably to safeguard limited supplies.

But countries that have controlled the virus best, including Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, all have told their citizens to wear masks. The Journal of Nature Medicine has concluded that “surgical face masks could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses.”

Even home-made masks are better than nothing, if only to stop an infected person spreading virus-laden droplets in the air.

Masks might have saved Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove from the coughing passenger he complained about on Facebook 11 days before the coronavirus killed him. They would protect people still crammed onto the subway.

The president should don a mask himself as an example to others, instead of refusing to wear one because he thinks it’s unbecoming.

We also must allow doctors to use the drugs they find are most effective for treating the virus. Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is at the top of the list, according to a survey of 6,200 physicians.

We need the government to lay out a road map like Gottlieb’s so we don’t feel we are drifting from weeks to months with vague promises while we go nuts in home detention.

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