President Donald Trump is itching to end social distancing in order to put the U.S. economy back on track, even as health experts who surround him say that’s a bad idea that will lead to the increased spread of coronavirus.
On Monday, while speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump explained that the country “wasn’t built to be shut down” in his mind:
“This is not a country that was built for this. America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”
Trump on Tuesday tried to address concerns that ending social distancing prematurely would cause harm to others, particularly to the elderly. That wasn’t a problem, according to the president, because that population and others would be involved in some sort of limited version of the practice.
The elderly, Trump said, “will be watched over protectively & lovingly.”
In private, Trump’s health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have told the president and other administration officials that returning everyone to work en masse would be a mistake, resulting in more cases of COVID-19, and likely with it, a higher death count.
During Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast, science and health reporter Donald McNeil Jr. explained that Trump’s idea — of practicing a limited social distancing campaign for vulnerable populations — was already considered elsewhere, but soundly rejected right away.
“This was an idea that was floated for a while in the Netherlands, and was floated for a while in the UK,” McNeil explained on the program, “and dropped because they realized that it was ridiculous…How do you only isolate the elderly?”
“Shelter in place” orders and the closing of businesses are a reaction to the failure to act earlier to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Listen to today's episode of The Daily. https://t.co/DRnUOwK8vO
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 24, 2020
McNeil went on to point out that much of the elderly population in America lives with families, receives delivery services for much of their needs, goes to community centers for help, and generally cannot feasibly be on their own for a matter of several weeks.
The same held true for those with immune system issues. McNeil elaborated:
“How do you isolate the vulnerable? Everybody who’s got high blood pressure is more susceptible to this disease. Anybody who’s taken any sort of immunosuppressive drugs or is fairly recently beyond cancer treatment may be more susceptible to this disease. There’s data suggesting now that people who vape may be more susceptible to developing pneumonia from this disease.”
There were simply too many Americans who were elderly or in immuno-compromised populations for that plan to work. “The idea that you can just isolate all the most vulnerable people in the U.S. is simply wishful thinking,” McNeil said.
The current situation wasn’t much better. Social distancing in America “is not working,” the reporter said, “because we’re not doing it right.”
Things have to be tightened more, certainly not less but also not at their current levels, for the U.S. to come out with the least amount of fatalities possible. “The loosey-goosier the freeze is, the longer it lasts,” McNeil added. “And the longer it’s going to take us to get our economy started again.”