Experts say that letting Americans go back to work could have catastrophic consequences.
Donald Trump has been signaling that he wants to ease the social distancing measures the country has been implementing to stop the spread of COVID-19, saying that the efforts to flatten the curve are not worth the cost to the economy.
But public health experts are sounding the alarm, saying that ending the social distancing measures too soon could cause an exponential increase in the number of deaths from the virus and urging Trump to stay the course.
"Anyone advising the end of social distancing now, needs to fully understand what the country will look like if we do that," tweeted Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which focuses on protecting the public during epidemics and disasters. "COVID would spread widely, rapidly, terribly, could kill potentially millions in the [year] ahead with huge social and economic impact across the country."
Inglesby warned that if social distancing were ended now, the rapid spread of the virus would overrun the health care system, and what would have been a 1% fatality rate could quickly turn to a 5% rate. Hospitals would not have the capacity to treat all of the patients in critical condition that land on their doorsteps, he said.
Despite dire warnings about the impacts of going back to business as usual, Republicans have expressed support for Trump's idea of ending social distancing measures for the good of the economy.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) suggested that more people would die if the country didn't get back to work, and downplayed the number of people who would die from COVID-19.
"For a small segment of our population, it's true, the coronavirus can kill you. For a small segment, " Kennedy said on Fox News host Tucker Carlson's show Monday night. "But you know what else can kill you? Poverty. Hunger. Losing the entire economy."
Texas GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went as far as suggesting that the elderly — who are more at risk of dying from COVID-19 — should sacrifice their lives in order to get the rest of the population back to work.
"Let's get back to work. Let's get back to living. Let's be smart about it," Patrick said. "And those of us who are 70-plus, we'll take care of ourselves. But don't sacrifice the country."
However, health care experts say it's not just the death rate that is a factor, but also how quickly the number of sick becomes too much for the health care system to handle. The economic situation resulting from the failure of the hospital system would be equally bad.
"If you put the economy ahead of public health, and then you have people dropping like flies from the pandemic, you're going to ruin the economy anyway," Arthur Caplan, a professor at New York University School of Medicine, said Tuesday morning on CNN. "There's no choice about this, it's got to lean toward public health."
Already, even with social distancing measures in place, the state of New York is seeing an exponential increase in the number of infected patients.
At least 3,200 people there have been hospitalized, with 756 of those patients in an intensive care unit, according to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.
New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said specifically that the state needs 30,000 more ventilators and more hospital beds to handle the coming influx of COVID-19 patients over the next two to three weeks.
"We had projected a need for 110K hospital beds at the apex of this virus. The rate of infection is INCREASING and the curve has increased. New projections show we may need 140K beds," Cuomo tweeted on Tuesday. "NYS is doing everything we can on every level to slow the spread. We need your cooperation."
Ultimately, it will be up to governors to decide whether they will lift social distancing measures in their states. However, Trump could have immeasurable sway over his supporters across the country, who may ignore warnings and start leaving their homes.
And even some GOP lawmakers are trying to convince Trump that he shouldn't be changing course now.
"There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeted on Tuesday.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.