Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, even though giving a green light for a partial reopening of her country’s economy after months of dueling with the novel coronavirus pandemic, said recently, “We’re still at the beginning of this crisis.”
Among the European nations, Germany (at 7,400 deaths) is often pointed out in the press as a “success story” in comparison to the devastation the virus has visited upon Italy, Spain and France (all over 26,000 deaths).
Singapore and Japan, two Asian nations that have done far better than their European or North American peers, have recently reported new surges of the virus, also known as COVID-19, as they gingerly negotiated reopenings. A surge in cases has been happening in Germany as well.
Public health experts say new surges will beleaguer the U.S.A., too, as state by state, at different paces, we attempt to relaunch shuttered or partially closed non-essential businesses. Such entities include factories, big box retail, restaurants, movie theaters, and hair and nail salons.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, surgeon general under President Barack Obama, told CNN, “The worst may not yet be behind us.” He and others have warned that the virus might explode again in the fall.
Mixed messages are flying everywhere, some of them right in the White House daily media briefings. We’ve had President Donald Trump violating social distancing on the podium with V.P. Mike Pence and others refusing to wear a mask and promising that the virus will soon be gone and will not return in the fall.
Practically back to back with Trump we’ve heard National Institutes of Health infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci caution the states about “reopening too soon” and predicting, unequivocally, that COVID-19 will stage a second attack in fall 2020 and the winter to follow.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, meanwhile, deserves high marks for shutting down Mountain State schools before the state had even a single reported case of the virus. And also for shuttering bars and restaurants while reported COVID-19 cases numbered only a dozen.
Front and center in parallel to the reopenings of business among the 50 states have been the twin issues of tests and what’s known as “contact tracing.”
Nationwide the U.S. by early May had achieved the level of 300,000 tests a day for coronavirus, whereas Fauci and others have been insisting that for reopenings to be safe, the country needs to rise to the high bar of 2 million tests a day. All tests also need to be rapid turnaround.
California now has the rapid-fire tests, but many other states, as yet, do not.
The second element needed is contact tracing. New York State already has this under way, but not to the degree required to safeguard reopenings. Contact tracing is done by hiring and training thousands of people to interview, often by phone, sometimes in person, individuals who have tested positive for the virus.
Tracers find out who subjects have been near — closer than 6 feet for 10 or more minutes — in the past two weeks, then interview all those people, too. And so on down the line. A gargantuan effort. And all who test positive must be mandated into quarantine and monitored for symptoms.