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Light at the End of the Tunnel?

On Thursday night, the Trump Administration announced new guidelines designed to open up the United States economy. Known as, “Opening Up America Again”, the guidelines emphasize three phases upon which individual states could decide how they would handle opening up their state’s economy. As Vice President Mike Pence emphasized during last night’s press conference, “These new guidelines for opening up America again can be implemented on a statewide basis or a county by county basis.” 

The guidelines announced by the White House were light on dates, but heavy on recommendations. Before starting phase one, the White House suggests there be a “downward trajectory” of both COVID-19 and influenza-like illnesses within a two week period, a downward trajectory of two weeks of either confirmed COVID-19 cases or positive tests, and that hospitals are able to “treat all patients without crisis care” and have a robust testing regime in place. In Phase One, “all vulnerable individuals” should remain at home, while others would be allowed to visit public parks, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Telework is encouraged, while schools, daycare centers, and visitors to hospitals and senior living facilities are advised to remain shutdown. 

Under Phase Two, vulnerable individuals to the virus would continue to remain at home, while schools, sports stadiums, movie theatres, and bars could open up with strict social distancing measures. Telework is still encouraged, but non-essential travel can resume while visits to hospitals and nursing homes still cannot. For Phase Three, all individuals can enter the public, while some should continue to minimize as much contact with others as possible, people can re enter their workplace, visits to nursing homes and hospitals are allowed, and trips to restaurants, bars, theatres, etc. are acceptable. 

The guidelines were formally announced following a phone call between President Trump and the nation’s governors, wherein the president made it clear that the governors were to take charge. As reported by CNN, President Trump told the governors, “You are going to call your own shots.” This is an apparent reversal from earlier this week, when President Trump claimed to have “total authority” over when to open up the country, causing controversy on both sides of the aisle. 

Two points stick out from the Trump Administration’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines and their chance for success. First, the success of the guidelines depends on the continued commitment of Americans to adhere to social distancing guidelines. There has already been a chorus of people, especially on the Right, who have been eager to open up the American economy again. “I’m not afraid to die” said Glenn Beck in March. “We’ve got to open this economy. If we don’t, it’s going to collapse,” warned Louisiana Senator John Kennedy. Protestors in Michigan rallied outside the state’s capitol building expressing their displeasure with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent stay-at-home order. However, the eagerness to get back to life as we knew it should not overwhelm the prudence of maintaining the health and safety of all Americans. A soft start is what is needed. America cannot get back to work if she is sick. 

The second point that sticks out concerning these guidelines is that chances for success depend on the health of the nation’s testing regime. So far, the United States has struggled at its pace of tests, and a continued lack of testing will ensure that the nation will have to go on lockdown again should COVID-19 come back in the fall and winter. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, recently released a plan that would require testing for four million people a week. However, Dr. Gottlieb admitted that it would be very difficult to test even two or three million Americans a week for the virus. Not the best news for those looking to open America back up this very instant. Despite this, “Opening Up America Again” shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. How close we reach that light depends on how willing we are to wait just a few more weeks and how able we are to get a robust testing regime out.

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