In the event of an early and partial reopening, the disparities can only widen. Those who can telecommute, who can shop online, or who work for health-conscious employers like public universities will be better positioned to minimize their exposure than those called back to work in factories, plants, and delivery services. The economy will be further divided along its widening class fault: those who can control their contacts with others, and those who cannot.
It did not have to be this way. If the Trump administration had not bungled testing, if it were not to this day jerking and lurching in obedience to the president’s latest ego demand, we could by now begin to see the way to a safer reopening in the next few weeks.
As is, the United States will be nearly as blind in May as it was in March. The testing regime remains bottlenecked and slow. Contact tracing barely exists. The people called back to work in the next few weeks will wear masks and stand farther apart from one another. But we are nowhere near the point of promptly identifying sick workers and effectively isolating them while they remain infectious.
Read: How the pandemic will end
The plans for a May return imply acceptance of significant infection and higher casualties. Pro-Trump talkers boast that they will volunteer for these risks themselves. Broadcaster Glenn Beck said on March 25:
I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working even if we all get sick. I’d rather die than kill the country.
Those words were spoken from Beck’s home studio. The day before, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (also a former radio host) said something similar on Fox News to Tucker Carlson, who was broadcasting from his home studio.
My message: Let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves.
But that is not how the pattern of sacrifice will be felt in real life. The Trump administration still has not built an effective testing-and-tracing system, almost half a year after the president received his first formal warning about the pandemic in his daily intelligence brief on January 3.
The coronavirus as Americans know it is not an equal-opportunity killer. The research arm of American Public Media reported on April 17 that 27 percent of those killed by COVID-19 to date have been African American, more than twice their share of the population. Grocery workers are dying in the dozens, at least 41 as of April 12, according to The Washington Post, with thousands more fallen sick.
Thanks to the lockdown rules adopted by most states in March, coronavirus deaths per day are projected to subside to below 1,000 by May 1, from the more than 2,000 a day of mid-April. If the lockdown continues a little longer, that number could tumble to below 100 a day by mid-May.