Public health experts are increasingly worried that Americans are underestimating how long the coronavirus pandemic will disrupt everyday life in the country, warning that the Trump administration’s timelines are offering many a false sense of comfort.

Coronavirus cases are expected to peak in mid-April in many parts of the country, but quickly reopening businesses or loosening shelter-in-place rules would inevitably lead to a new surge of infections, they said.

Meanwhile, other parts of the country are only now implementing restrictions and others have not yet ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, creating a patchwork response that will slow progress toward the goal of driving down transmission of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

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“The administration has consistently shown a desire to underplay the severity of whatever is coming. And they’re constantly adjusting that — as it becomes harder to deny the reality will be worse than what they’ve conditioned people for,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Konyndyk said he and other experts he’s discussed the matter with believe an “intensive period of social distancing and a national semi-voluntary lockdown” will last for months.

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President Trump, after signaling that he may try to restore some sense of normalcy in the country by Easter, has acknowledged that difficult times are ahead and that restrictions should remain in place until the end of April.

But experts say that, even if some restrictions are relaxed, it’s unlikely life as normal will resume in early May.

A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, said this week that it’s understandable that people want to know when businesses can reopen and some facets of life can resume. But he said the focus of public discourse now needs to be on the public health response, not the question of when restrictions can be lifted.

“Decisions to reopen society should not be about a date, but about the data,” Frieden, now president and CEO of the global public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, said during a briefing Wednesday for journalists. “How well and how quickly we do these things will determine how soon and how safely we can reopen.”

He and others have outlined steps that should be taken before restrictions are lifted to ensure new cases do not continue to grow exponentially, collapsing health care systems under their weight. Frieden stressed the importance of expanded testing to know where the virus is transmitting as well as setting up public health
infrastructures to trace the contacts of cases and monitor them in quarantine.

“We need an army of contact tracers in every community in the U.S. to be ready to find every contact and warn them to care for themselves and stop spreading it to others,” he said.

Those resources do not current exist, said Konyndyk, who also noted that hospital capacity across the country needs to be expanded and protective equipment for health workers restocked. There are currently global shortages.

“If we want to be able to — as I think we need to — turn our economy back on in a safe way, we need to be able to do that sort of thing at scale,” Konyndyk said. “And we do not have anywhere close to the public health infrastructure that’s needed to pull that off.”

“That’s fundamental to getting us out of this lockdown phase. And the government’s not talking about it, much less acting on it,” he said.

Public health experts have said the near-term goal is to flatten the epidemic curve of new cases. There are signs that the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle are starting to see some results in this respect, but progress is not yet apparent in most parts of the country.

Michael Mina, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the United States squandered a chance to prevent the virus from taking off here and now must do what it takes to beat it back.

“We let things get out of hand,” said Mina, who is also associate medical director of clinical microbiology at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “So now the place that we’re left in is we have to absolutely beat this down with a hammer and get to near zero cases.

“What the means is we have to be patient. By the end of April shouldn’t be anyone’s consideration at this point,” he said. “We have to assume at the very least this is going through May.”

Others suggest it may be longer before stores and restaurants can reopen, before authorities can consider reopening schools and universities.

Philanthropist Bill Gates warned in an appearance on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday that things like lifting bans on mass gatherings — public meetings or concerts — could be quite a way down the road.

Some activities, like reopening schools, might be deemed low risk and of societal benefit, Gates said. But mass gatherings “may be, in a certain sense, more optional.” Until large numbers of people can be vaccinated against the virus “those may not come back at all,” he said.

Though vaccine development is proceeding at a historic pace, in a best-case scenario a product won’t be available for the general public for at least 18 months, and likely longer. Early supplies, which will be limited, would be used to protect health workers.

Konyndyk and others warn that lifting restrictions will need to be done gradually. And the Trump administration has told state governors it will issue county-by-county guidelines on the level of risk, an effort to help local officials decide when to relax restrictions.

Still, experts are worried that if the current measures work, success could have a paradoxical downside: People who are still vulnerable to the virus will see the risk as over, leaving open the possibility of resurgent spread.

“Success is we have a lot of susceptible people left against a disease for which there is still not effective or proven treatment and no vaccine — and won’t be for some time,” Konyndyk said.

Experts say even a return to normal could come with asterisks. Mina noted, for instance, that restaurants may need to put more space between tables. Others have suggested people in high-risk groups — those over 65 or 70 and people with chronic conditions — may need to practice physical distancing even after restrictions have loosened for others, at least until vaccine is ready.

“We’re at the front end of what will be a pretty arduous few years of something. What the something looks like, we don’t fully know,” said Konyndyk. “But I think our best case scenario is we can pull off what South Korea seems to be managing, which is get the curve down. And our job is going to be much bigger than theirs was. … Dramatically bigger.”

  • Mind control. If CNN would announce whenever someone fartted. we would think there is a pandemic, and if we were told that was deadly we would have out hospitals full. The numbers for a bad flu year match this cold virus, and only to the very sick.
    Isolate the sick and let the majority go back to everything.
    Drawing this out will not work.
    EVERYONE WILL AT SOME TIME GET THIS VIRUS JUST LIKE THE COMMON COLD and it is unstoppable, you Will get a cold sometime no matter what you do.
    The economy is not recoverable,
    millions will commit suicide when only 100,000 would die from this cold.
    suicides is already 1.2 million a year world wide in 2018 in a GOOD YEAR.
    it will be MILLIONS this year. Worldwide. Yes, this pandemic is destroying nations. ON PURPOSE. THIS IS ON PURPOSE.
    Did you know there are 42 million abortions every year? well after three months of lockdown there will be 100 million abortions this year at least
    All to save 100,000 Old sick people? Did you know if an old person gets put on a vent, they languish for 8-10 days and then 85 percent die.
    WHAT ARE WE DOING>?
    Why put them on venilators to suffer for two weeks and die anyway?
    This is ridiculous.

    • Sorry, made a mistake.
      I said to “Save old peopl’
      when in fact we are NOT saving old people.
      We are putting them on a vent for ten days to die.
      that is what we are doing
      we are destroying the economy and not even saving the old and sick they will mostly die anyway. so far if you ar ill and get on a vent 8/10 die.

  • This article is an embarrassment. How can you claim to present real discussion on re-opening without mentioning the economy even once in the article? The devastation to the economy of these restrictions last much longer will dwarf the medical suffering.

  • Utter rubbish Helen. This isn’t reporting. It’s an op-ed sourcing no less than Bill Gates. Gates has given $1.5 billion to the WHO, whose leader loudly shilled for China once the Wuhan virus came to light. This trash piece did not mention China’s long list of lies the past five months, the doctors they’ve disappeared, or the “experts” like the NYC Health commissioner who downplayed the virus based on lies told by the Chinese and then legitimized and lasted by the WHO, which is Bill Gates favorite charity. Next time, instead of the tired #Orangemanbad schtick, open your eyes to the real menace in this disaster. Report using facts, not the opinions of billionaires. Good grief, people like you ought to try intellectual honesty once in a while. First remove your mouth from the teat of the elitist puppet masters and the Democratic State Media. The Orwellian flavor should have tipped you off. Instead you swallow and then offer up a tasteless regurgitation. Pitiful.

    • You summed it up very nicely Elron. I give it two more weeks, Cuomo already realizes he is looking at widespread looting and vandalism in Manhattan and the rest of the pols will soon get cold feet as well. They expected Trump to screw it up and instead he came through with flying colors.

  • I could see this resulting in more invasive surveillance, expanded pandemic response teams, greater use of technology to screen incoming international travelers, and higher taxes. Not necessarily all of the above. At least we don’t have mandatory big brother apps for tracking COVID-19 here.
    Pretty sure Bill Gates isn’t Tedros Adhanom or Tijjani Muhammad-Bande.
    Also pretty sure SARS-CoV-2 isn’t BS.

  • The immediate response should have been for all seniors ave those with pre-existing conditions to shelter in place. The rest of us should be allowed to go about our business. The United States will NOT stay locked down beyond early May. We cannot allow COVID 19 to permanently destroy our economy (although that’s exactly what many in the world would like). Any “world” organization doesn’t have America’s best interest in mind. The WHO has been corrupt for 30 years. America will be back in business by mid May, regardless of what Washington says and no one will stop businesses from reopening. America can not afford to fail. Oh, and we’ll save the world AGAIN. Cheers!

  • Health experts are themselves underestimating how much longer people will tolerate these restrictions in the face of looming poverty. A month, two, maybe three yes. But two years until there’s a vaccine? No. People will run out of money for food long before that and food rioters do not have a good historical record for social distancing. There needs to be a transition to something less restrictive by, I’d say, June or there will be growing unrest.

    • Trump is calling “up to” 1 million troops. Why? Definitely not to hand out food! Massive civil unrest is coming.

  • While I appeciate the value of people employed in the Health Industry Advocacy groups cited herw, they are naturally looking at thru a health prism related directly to this Covid- 19 virus. But when unemployment levels, and small business collapse levels hit soon expectly unprecedented ghastly levels, the toll on human live and marriages, and public safety, crime levels, etc also has people likely dying from this as well. Suicides, homicides, domestic violence, strokes, heart attacks, etc all can be expected to likewise escalate at unprecedented numbers if the US economy is essentially shut down through May, or God Help Us, .. longer. We might be looking at tens of thousands of deaths ovee the coming weeks, months of people that were never infected. So the Nation is likely going to need to come to grips with a balance here of how much chaos, death they are willing to tolerate with any consideration of the lockdown of most busineses beyond April.

  • To be totally honest whatever you do..whether u listen to the experts or not YOU will bear the consequences. I’ve never been much of a people person(like President dump) and like him I really don’t care what happens to the stupid ones, only that they will make it more difficult for the rest of us to get back to the new normal of bio weapons and bio weapon labs and humans making terrible diseases to kill other humans…thats why I really dont care for living in the social structure of today.

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