The Trump administration is expected to announce in the coming days a second coronavirus task force, this one focused specifically on reopening the economy. The White House reportedly hopes to reverse the broad shutdown as soon as May 1.

Yet we have not heard President Trump articulate a concrete plan for how that will be accomplished. Other than concerns over the slumping economy, and the president’s own impatience with it, we haven’t been told why that date makes sense, or whether it has any grounding in public health.

REOPENING THE RIGHT WAY

Reopening the economy too soon risks allowing a second wave of COVID-19, one that would cause more illness and death, and likely greater economic turmoil than if we continue to keep things shuttered until we’re in the clear.

Doing it right will take the willpower to wait until the right time, and it will take a coordinated response from a federal government that knows what it is doing.

Three weeks out from May 1, there are few indications the Trump administration can offer either of those things.

It’s true that the effects of widespread physical distancing are promising, and that continued diligence by everyone in the coming weeks could allow some aspects of life to begin to return to normal. But we cannot be lulled into complacency.

In order for businesses and other places of public gathering to reopen without causing another outbreak, it has to be done right. That means, at least, that there exists an adequate supply of rapid-response tests and personal protective gear so that new cases can be quickly identified, and people can be treated and their contacts tracked — just one missed case can ignite another regional outbreak.

FAILURES ON TESTS, SUPPLIES

The Trump administration has failed to act to ensure the United States has enough protective gear, telling states they are on their own. Now, states are competing against each other, paying exorbitant prices and still not getting the amount they need.

And after the federal government failed in its first attempt to produce its own coronavirus test, capacity for testing is still not close to where it needs to be.

In just one example, the Maine CDC on Wednesday said it had received only 5% of the promising rapid-response tests it was promised. Rather than the capacity for about 2,300 tests, the state increased its capacity by just 115.

The Trump administration has promised that antibody testing — which could show how many people are immune to the disease and could thus move about freely — will be available soon.

But administration officials also promised last month widespread testing capabilities that never materialized.

In one case, President Trump on March 13 brought retail executives to the Rose Garden to announce the creation of the kind of large-scale drive-through testing sites that helped South Korea hold back its outbreak. As of this week, only five were operating, and they are only for health professionals and first responders.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

If the president has a plan for reopening the economy despite these and other shortcomings, people need to hear it. They need to hear why it makes sense to do it now, and that it’s not just because he is anxious to see the stock market rise again. They need to hear from health experts on why it won’t come back to haunt us.

Otherwise, it won’t work. It was governors who for the most part closed things, and it is governors who will decide when to open them. They and most other Americans understand the severity and the stakes of COVID-19, even if the president doesn’t, and they won’t go out in large numbers if they don’t feel safe, regardless of what he says.

But the president’s message matters, and if it’s the wrong one we’ll end up with more of the patchwork of responses that we have had the last two months, as President Trump has left it largely up to individual states. He’s never had a plan, really, and we shouldn’t trust that he has one now.


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