But many of these standards are unlikely to be met anytime soon, and red and blue states alike are starting to probe which restrictions can give.
Read: An unprecedented divide between red and blue America
Kemp’s decision was hasty, and even Trump criticized it. Eighty percent of the public still supports social distancing, according to a recent Kaiser poll, and the same proportion said they could follow stay-at-home orders for at least a month longer. Still, even Democratic governors of hard-hit states recognize that a full lockdown cannot remain in place indefinitely. Inevitably, decisions about whether a given activity can begin again will not be based on science alone.
“Opening up” has become yet another catchphrase in America’s culture wars. But the term describes neither a singular policy nor a specific moment in time. The process is not binary. The relevant question now is how to responsibly resume more economic activity when no universal testing system is in sight, no treatment has been identified, and no vaccine has been developed. Opening up will be a high-stakes version of a coloring book. We can use more and more crayons, but the goal is to avoid going over the edges.
If Plan A was to prevent the coronavirus from taking root in the United States in the first place, then Plan B was to buy time through social distancing to keep health systems from becoming overwhelmed—and also to allow health officials to ramp up testing. It was a social contract: We stay inside. You, the government, must get your act together.
The best path toward fighting the pandemic and reopening society still involves a rigorous universal testing program that identifies and isolates those who have been exposed to the coronavirus. A recent analysis by Harvard researchers and the medical-news publication Stat concluded that more than half of states are nowhere near having a testing capability to justify relaxing their stay-at-home orders. Policy makers should not ease up on their pursuit of significantly greater testing.
Yascha Mounk: No testing, no treatment, no herd immunity, no easy way out
And yet Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus-response coordinator, acknowledged Sunday that to get ahead of the disease, the country will need a “breakthrough innovation” in testing. So we are now looking at Plan C—not the gold but the bronze standard, under which Americans, at least in certain places, come cautiously out of their homes while adapting their pre-pandemic routines to dangerous new circumstances.
Given the time that ramping up a comprehensive national testing program will take, the push to end at least some forms of social distancing will succeed well before a universal testing program is in place. Beyond economic and political pressures, public-health officials are also up against human psychology. Welcome to the world of the so-called preparedness paradox: Preventive measures, if successful, may seem needlessly cautious. When the curve begins to flatten, some may conclude that the threat was not so dire to begin with.