Yale epidemiologist: Premature reopening will bring ‘needless suffering and death’ from coronavirus

Yale epidemiologist: Premature reopening will bring ‘needless suffering and death’ from coronavirus
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addresses a briefing on the latest information about the Coronavirus Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in the James S. Brady Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

In the United States, the coronavirus pandemic is not only a health and safety issue — it has also become a political issue, with prominent Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asserting that businesses and schools shouldn’t reopen until it is safe to do so and President Donald Trump arguing that the U.S. should reopen sooner rather than later. Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale University’s School of Public Health, discusses Trump’s push to reopen the country prematurely in an article for The Nation — and warns that doing so will result in countless deaths that could have been prevented.

The epidemiologist explains, “The president of the United States has made a decision — sort of — that despite the lack of sufficient testing, resources to embark upon the tracing of the contacts of all people testing positive for COVID-19, and the ability to humanely isolate those infected, we are nevertheless reopening as a country….  His message is clear: ‘we have met the moment, and we have prevailed,’ he announces — declaring victory over the pandemic,  at least in his own rear view mirror.”

But in fact, Gonsalves warns, the U.S. hasn’t triumphed over COVID-19.

“Even as the president proclaimed ‘mission accomplished,’” Gonsalves observes, “the White House was in a panic over an outbreak of COVID-19 at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — evincing a newfound interest in personal protective equipment like masks, as three of the most senior health officials in the nation went into self-isolation due to exposure to the coronavirus in the West Wing.”

Gonsalves adds that Dr. Anthony Fauci was spot on this week when he asserted, “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”

The Yale epidemiology professor also notes that the “needless suffering and death” part will hit some Americans harder than others. According to Gonsalves, “The impact of state reopenings isn’t going to fall equally on all residents. Those of us who can work from home will continue to do so, minimizing exposure to the virus even if we aren’t in full lockdown mode. It’s those who work in jobs that require close face-to-face contact — and those who cannot work from home — who will face the brunt of new outbreaks of the coronavirus.”

Gonsalves wraps up his article with a dire warning: the more states prematurely abandon social distancing,  the higher the death toll will be.

“Brace yourselves for a long, slow burn,” Gonsalves warns. “We will not get our epidemic under control in the U.S.; some states will do better than others, but we really are all in this together. This isn’t a call for solidarity or a ‘kumbaya’ moment, but a simple epidemiological fact. You can’t put out a house fire in one room, let it keep burning in others, and expect to be safe.”

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