Craig Spencer: I learned the hard way that a ‘breakthrough’ treatment isn’t innocuous
In other words, the American coronavirus crisis will end—just not soon. “With a combination of public-health measures with a vaccine that’s reasonably good,” the infectious-diseases expert Anthony Fauci told me in a recent online interview, “by the time we get around through 2021, we can start having some form of normality. Maybe not exactly the way it was, but certainly different than what we’re doing right now.” Fauci’s prediction is based on the best-case scenario in which, “as we get into 2021, we should start seeing a substantial number of [vaccine] doses available.”
This timetable comes as difficult news. Summer is ending. Americans were told that this season, the season of outdoors and open windows, would create the best conditions to manage COVID-19. The nights are now shorter, the mornings darker. In the northern states, the long summer nights are yielding to the approaching chill. Windows in much of the country will soon be closed for months, outdoor dining and events will be harder to enjoy, and a regular flu season will begin. For many families, the Thanksgiving and December holidays may be as much fun as spring break was in March—that is, not at all. And still, over the past week, an average of nearly 1,000 Americans a day died of COVID-19, and more than 40,000 new cases a day were reported.
When the rapidly spreading coronavirus first closed classrooms and workplaces earlier this year, Americans might have assumed that the shutdowns might go on for a few weeks. In late March, I argued that the United States might need 18 months to end the crisis—but still never imagined quite how incoherent and ineffective the Trump administration’s response to the virus would be. We were realistic, closing schools for the rest of the school year, offices until summer. Then as those dates approached, as late summer came, often last-minute decisions were made to mostly continue the distance until the middle or the end of the fall semester. Many offices are now closed until January or later. We’ve been psychologically kicking the can down the road. The whole point of each incremental delay was that the pandemic might change for the better—by Memorial Day, or July Fourth, or Labor Day, or Thanksgiving. The changes aren’t happening fast enough.
Alan Bernstein: I’m optimistic that we will have a COVID-19 vaccine soon
Americans frustrated with Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic have trained their eyes on the November election, but even if Joe Biden wins, the status quo is essentially locked in until at least early next year, if not later. Trump owns the winter. If he loses the election, he may lose any lingering interest he had in fighting the pandemic—and go out of his way to make Biden’s task more difficult. If Trump wins, he’ll take it as validation of his approach to the crisis.