Slowly Re-Opening America
Things are going to get better. And far worse.
There may be no flipping of the switch but even sane governors are starting to give in to pressure to reopen. Some of the choices being made seem rather odd.
Naturally, leadership from the top continues to be less than ideal. The WaPo headline says it all: “As deaths mount, Trump tries to convince Americans it’s safe to inch back to normal.”
In a week when the novel coronavirus ravaged new communities across the country and the number of dead soared past 78,000, President Trump and his advisers shifted from hour-by-hour crisis management to what they characterize as a long-term strategy aimed at reviving the decimated economy and preparing for additional outbreaks this fall.
But in doing so, the administration is effectively bowing to — and asking Americans to accept — a devastating proposition: that a steady, daily accumulation of lonely deaths is the grim cost of reopening the nation.
Inside the West Wing, some officials talk about the federal government’s mitigation mission as largely accomplished because they believe the nation’s hospitals are now equipped to meet anticipated demand — even as health officials warn the number of coronavirus cases could increase considerably in May and June as more states and localities loosen restrictions, and some mitigation efforts are still recommended as states begin to reopen.
Alas, while we may have flattened the curve with the lockdowns, we got too little for weeks of sheltering-in-place:
The administration is struggling to expand the scale of testing to what experts say is necessary to reopen businesses safely, and officials have not announced any national plan for contact tracing. Trump and some of his advisers are prioritizing the psychology of the pandemic as much as, if not more than, plans to combat the virus, some aides and outside advisers said — striving to instill confidence that people can comfortably return to daily life despite the rising death toll.
On Friday, as the unemployment rate reached a historically high 14.7 percent, Trump urged Americans to think of this period as a “transition to greatness,” adding during a meeting with Republican members of Congress: “We’re going to do something very fast, and we’re going to have a phenomenal year next year.” The president predicted the virus eventually would disappear even without a vaccine — a prediction at odds with his own science officials.
It was well understood that we wasted six weeks on the front end of this crisis, failing to have testing and personal protective equipment ready for when the inevitable happened. But even the fiercest Trump critics wouldn’t have predicted that we’d be essentially no more ready by mid-May.
But here we are.
In the DC metroplex, the spread of the virus hasn’t slowed much, nor has the death rate. But that’s not stopping officials from trying to get back to a normal that doesn’t exist.
Here in Virginia, where Governor Ralph Northam emerged from the blackface scandal that looked for a while like it would force him from office into a progressive reformer, we closed the schools and issued stay-at-home orders two months ago. But we’re now slowly re-opening, perhaps as soon as next week.
Northam made clear that he won’t abruptly remove all restrictions. He outlined a “Phase 1” reopening that would continue to place extreme limits on businesses, with movie theaters and indoor gyms still closed and restaurants allowed to reopen only if they offer outdoor seating.
“When the time is right, we will turn a dimmer switch up just a notch,” he said, adding that some communities — such as Northern Virginia — might choose to keep heavier restrictions in place.
The state’s limit on general gatherings of more than 10 people would stay in effect until June 10, but the ban would be waived to allow nonessential retailers to reopen at half of their lowest licensed capacity, Northam said.
Retail customers would have to be kept at least six feet apart while shopping or standing in line; fitting rooms or other enclosed spaces would remain closed; and masks would be required for employees and strongly encouraged for customers.
Churches could resume indoor services, but at 50 percent capacity.
Restaurants, currently allowed to offer only takeout or delivery, would be able to offer seated dining outside if they were already licensed for outdoor service. And that would be restricted to half of capacity, with single-use, disposable menus.
While indoor fitness and recreation facilities would remain closed, they could offer limited outdoor classes with equipment disinfected and participants at least 10 feet apart.
Outdoor basketball and racquetball courts would still be closed. Outdoor pools may reopen only for lap swimming, with one person per lane.
Beaches would remain closed for everything except exercise and fishing.
Hair and nail salons could operate by appointment only, with one customer per service provider, at least six feet between stations and at half the facility’s licensed capacity. Employees and customers alike would be required to wear masks, so no beard trimming or lip waxing.
Some limits, such as the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and the use of beaches, are punishable as Class 1 misdemeanors. Businesses that violate the operating limits could be shut down by the health department.
Northam said this phase of reopening — which the state explains in detail online — would last at least two weeks before moving to a slightly more permissive Phase 2.
While the social distancing procedures outlined make sense, many of the exclusions seem to be based more on political pressure than science.
There’s no obvious reason to close beaches, which are by definition outdoors, to swimming and other recreational activities. (Although I’m not sure who wants to go swimming when it’s this cold.) What makes them more dangerous than jogging or fishing?
And what possible justification is there for opening churches in Phase 1? It’s hard to conceive of a less essential activity. We could run worship services via Zoom indefinitely.
But if we’re going to open churches with social distancing, why not gyms? Just require employees to sanitize equipment between patrons.
And how hard is it to trim and paint one’s nails at home?
I get the allure of re-opening barbershops and salons and can see how those activities could be performed safely. But the reason they were closed to begin with is that it’s literally impossible to cut someone’s hair and be six feet away from them. If masks were the only hold-up, why did we force those businesses to close for two months to begin with?
Aside from health concerns, one wonders how feasible these schemes are. In addition to the issue that Steven Taylor and I have both raised about whether there’s sufficient public trust to patronize these businesses at sustainable levels, many of them operate on thin margins requiring them to utilize their whole capacity. Allowing restaurants to serve a handful of customers outdoors in addition to the current takeout policy would be better than nothing—but not much.
From a CNN story:
Here is a link to what is risky, what not so much:
An excerpt: (The whole piece is pretty long):
Posted this graph that I saw on Digby on the open forum, but it’s appropriate here. We’re not ready to reopen and it will be a disaster, though one that is not evenly distributed. Missouri, living up to the moniker Misery, has opened bars and will be opening concert venues this week. Outside of cruise ships are there greater petri dishes than bars and concert venues?
Salons, barber shops and other one-on-one personal service businesses are high risk locations for transmission of the virus, but number of contacts per day are small. Restaurants are much greater potential vector, an unknowingly infected individual in a facility operating at 50% could potentially infect the entire room and several of the staff. As much as it saddens me to say this, as I love dining out, I’ll go with Steven’s suggestion to stick to take-out and drink at home.
Bars, sporting events, concerts and other theater productions will all wait till there is a vaccine or we’ve reached herd immunity because we’ve killed and maimed a sufficient number of our co-
Yep, nobody could have predicted that the trump admin would utterly and completely fail at the #1 and #2 requirements for safely opening up the economy again:
#1: Testing. testing, testing, more testing, more testing, more testing, and even more testing
#2 Track and trace
Except for all the people who have been paying even the slightest bit of attention since the end of 2016. These people are the laziest f’s since slugs evolved. Always doing everything on the cheap, wishing and hoping for a magic bullet that will make all the problems go away and when one doesn’t appear they instead depend on their propaganda machine to misinform and create doubts in people’s minds and obscure the fact that we will blow thru 80,000 deaths before this day is out.
But it’s all OK. Not like they will have to pay for any of this. They never suffer the consequences of their own incompetence. Meritocracy my ass.
If there’s one thing the Trump administration isn’t, it’s a meritocracy. Who, at this point, would work for Trump other than an incompetent grifter?
We always knew the lockdown was temporary. I find it difficult to be too critical of governors as they have tried to balance closing vs opening. They have faced significant pressure from the federal govt and many of their own people to open. They are in the middle of having to decide what is safe vs keeping working without ever having been through this before. What is awful, as you note, is that we have wasted this time. We have proven that some hospitals in some areas can cope, with the aid of complete lockdowns, with a surge of infection, but we have not continued preparations beyond that. When this reoccurs we are going to be struggling to cope again.
It’s the sitting still in close proximity aspect that makes them more risky.
For me, I have always seen opportunity in tragedy.
The way it looks, as the GOP leadership (national and state level) have decided that masks and social distancing are a sign of weakness, and with the southern / southeastern states being in full denial of the risks of viral transmission… I foresee the cost of waterfront homes dropping as families rush to settle estates.
Sure, dark, but if morons insist on being morons, then it is just part of the black parade.
Yes. Churches and synagogues. Singing is a risk multiplier; it both increases how much virus you pump out and how much you suck deep into your lungs. Making an exception for churches “because religion” is doubly stupid, given that churches aren’t important to the economy. Wasn’t that the rationale — it’s for the economy?
The governors can ok the churches, but whether anyone attends would depend on the local culture. No services this morning at the churches within my retirement development.
As I pointed out yesterday in a different thread, it’s a mistake to think of what’s going to happen as a recurrence. In most of the US, policies that have been in place for the last month or more have greatly mitigated spread and growth of the epidemic from its initial hot spots. Many places feel put upon precisely because they have not seen lots of infections and deaths in their neighborhood. They think “this disease is not our problem”, when the truth is that this disease is not yet their problem.
A return to mostly normal today would mean that those areas not yet thoroughly infected will have endured economic hardship for very little health benefit in the end.
Here is another excerpt from my link – a chain of infection with 3 deaths out of 16 infected people – seems like a pretty dangerous disease:
In other words, everyone’s health is now at the mercy of the least-sensible congregations. Sort of like removing the speed limits on all roads, and leaving it to “local culture”.
What’s behind the special attention that nail salons and tattoo parlors have received during this pandemic? I keep expecting to find out that there’s some powerful body adornment lobby that I’ve never heard of before.
Coronavirus Cluster Blossoms At White House As Trump Continues To Minimize Threat
You have never heard of the nefarious “Bigger the Hair / Closer to God” PAC?
Good thing he enjoys a large store of implicit trust with the American people due to his long history of honesty and transparency. /sarc
“What’s behind the special attention that nail salons and tattoo parlors have received during this pandemic? I keep expecting to find out that there’s some powerful body adornment lobby that I’ve never heard of before.”
I suspect it is a gambit in the culture war — them libruls hate tattooed people, and are trying to away your right to get one.
Just had a relative tell me that the reason so many people are out of work is because they’re getting way more money from the government than working so they’re just staying at home.￼
Well, first you need to get an idea of the perspective of the pundits, such as James here. This tweet has a map showing the US by thirds of COVID-19 deaths. As can be seen, those in the NYC metro area (4% pop), those in the Acela corridor (with Chicago, Detroit, and a couple other urban centers)(11% pop) have a different experience than the other 85% of the US population.
But yes, there are risks to opening up. But there is also hunger due to the arbitrary and unscientific internment of the population and shutdown of small businesses. The experts could have adjusted their panic recommendations to the more focused avoidance of prolonged close-range, face-to-face contact and staying in indoor, poorly ventilated spaces. But they didn’t and neither did the leaders they advised. This latter would have been a much smarter way to address the risk of religious services than the arbitrary, unexplained banning of worship as one chooses. And may have stood the government in a better position in court challenges on their infringement of freedom of religion. The arbitrary belief that worship via Zoom is good enough doesn’t meet the constitutional tests. Although one could easily make the Zoom argument for not letting dorm living and on-campus instruction resume at colleges and universities without constitutional issues.
Urban cores are likely to become urban corpses in the near term. Their very, modern, purpose is to facilitate prolonged, close-range, face-to-face interactions. Economics professor Timothy Taylor (The Conversable Economist) recent wrote on mass transit:
This density, no way to avoid super spreader activities and the difference between how Florida (for example) and NY have handled the vulnerable populations of elderly, give very different experiences that inform reopening around the country. But in reality, states can start to reopen under a plan or reopen under rebellion, their choice.
Very little disease in Hong Kong which is one of the most densely populated places there is.
Your explanation is ???
To see some high per capita new cases, currently rapidly increasing, take a look at Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota.
If the government can’t require remote worship because it violates freedom religion, why would a requirement people stand six feet apart or meet outdoors to worship be anymore constitutionally valid?
And of course, this is as usual a bad faith motte-and-bailey argument, because we all know that if local governments said “okay, you can meet in church but you have to stay six feet apart”, JKB would immediately move the goal posts and start attacking that instead.
And contrary to Kylopod’s naive belief in the rule of law from earlier in the week, I actually suspect JKB will actually get his way under the Republican justice’s “White evangelical christians are above the law” precedent.
Since a significant number of hair salons also offer nail maintenance, it would be difficult to say the nail tech could work at a salon and not at free standing nail shop. Again, these are small possible vectors, where the biggest danger is is stylist becomes an asymptomatic carrier. The real issue is where people gather in groups as @charon: mentioned
I think people forget that one reason for slamming the brakes was simply to buy time to figure out the nature of this pandemic. We know much more today than we did a couple of months back. Not every pathogen has the same profile — if they were all the same, then we would have known the best course of action from Day 1. If we could rewind the clock today, of course we would act differently. And if we were given that option again one year from now, then we would act differently again. That’s the nature of gaining hard-earned knowledge. Making mistakes is inevitable and to be expected.
I demonstrated no “naive belief in the rule of law.” I disputed your ridiculous assertion that “certain religious groups are immune from the law,” and I provided factual and empirical evidence proving your statement to be inaccurate. You literally ignored everything I said and focused on the recent incident with armed protesters as if it proved your broad and sweeping statement all by itself. Your basic premise seems to be that any abuse of the religious-freedom clause by anyone at anytime, anywhere, is automatically proof that the entire religious-freedom concept is a sham and that the people can literally get away with anything–which is not only a total non sequitur, but is refuted by just the examples I gave alone (which are themselves the tip of the iceberg). Furthermore, you showed a complete lack of respect for how important the enforcement of religious protections in the First Amendment and civil-rights laws have been to religious minorities in this country. You don’t seem to realize that your desire to eliminate “freedom of religion” altogether would just be handing more power to the very people you’re complaining about to shit on those different from themselves (including atheists, I should mention).
@Stormy Dragon: @Stormy Dragon:
I actually would advise against the in-church services. The very nature of church services, like that of the classroom, is prolonged, close-range, face-to-face contact in a confined space.
However, the governors and mayors are acting stupidly, and are receiving no help from the “experts”. Court rulings have already gone against some governors/mayors. The state lawyers can hardly argue the prolonged contact when it is not part of the official government expert reasoning and the officious officials made no attempt to use the argument to craft the minimal imposition on civil liberties to achieve the state’s legitimate interest.
Knowledge is power, but the technocrat experts have either not sought the knowledge or hoped to keep it to themselves and use officious edicts to rule. The latter is guaranteed to develop resistance in a free people.
I know you hope to ‘blame Trump’, but Trump left such officiousness to the states in an act of federalism. Hence, the cry for a one-size-fits-all from any here and elsewhere. How dare Gov. Cuomo be held responsible for his administration’s directives that infected nursing home residents while the FL governor show how to protect his most vulnerable to good success.
You have no real idea how Florida is doing, their Republican governor refuses to divulge Covid data.
Jesus you’re dishonest. You type and all that comes out is lies.
You have no real idea how Florida is doing, their Republican governor refuses to divulge Covid data.
But…but…this is an act of Federalism!!!
Probably not the first ever, but certainly the most recent and most spectacularly politicized one ever.
ETA: @Teve: “And the beat goes on (yeah, the beat goes on) and the beat goes on and on and on and on and… [fade out].
A map of total numbers of deaths does not show anything about the experience in different areas. You would want a map of fatality/population for that — and that would only show how people perceive the experience.
It doesn’t take into account that Seattle, San Francisco and NYC went first.
You really want a series of maps of fatality/population based on number of days after an outbreak was discovered.
(From there you would want to break out graphs of population density, population clustering (subways, churches, meat packing plants), etc)
Your map shows nothing that supports the claim you are making. It’s not a useless map, as it shows where to ship body bags to, but it doesn’t show what you think it shows.
Thanks, good article , however I am distressed in as much as Dr Bromage has suggested (in lieu of actual clinical studies) that an infectious dose might be as low as 1000 viral particles.
For comparison purposes a clinical study of Norvirus asserts that the minimum infectious dose of norovirus is 18 particles link
So, if the actual infectious dose (of SARS-COV-2) is really significantly lower than 1000 particles, the avoidance techniques that Dr Bromage suggests should really be considered minimal methods.
It is vaguely amusing, JKB with his scare quotes around ‘experts’ representing the degenerate state of the rump of the ‘Republican’ party diehards, representing one supposes the core of the Know-Nothings hardcore ignoramus fundamentalist pov.
Of course one can see fairly clearly from Rest of World that the countries / geographic areas that followed experts – no scare quotes needed – early on and had well-managed and coordinated national or central responses are doing significantly better than those that responded late on reducing death rates and infection.
It’s worth noting new cases in the New York (tri-state) area are decreasing, while the new cases in rest of the country are increasing. It doesn’t seem like everyone else has it under control and can blithely reopen, thinking the worst is over.
@JKB: Do you live in Florida? Obviously not.
I do…and numerous nursing homes throughout the state of Florida have clusters of CV-19 infections. A Florida nursing home is one of the unsafest places you can be Its gets in through the nurses and maintenance staff who can’t be tested because your President left the States to fend for themselves on the international market for testing supplies…competing with other NATIONS. You’re an idiot. Stick to things you actually know something about.