When you mix science and politics, you get politics. With the coronavirus, the United States has proved politics hasn’t worked. If we are to fully reopen both the economy and schools safely — which can be done — we have to return to science.
To understand just how bad things are in the United States and, more important, what can be done about it requires comparison. At this writing, Italy, once the poster child of coronavirus devastation and with a population twice that of Texas, has recently averaged about 200 new cases a day when Texas has had over 9,000. Germany, with a population four times that of Florida, has had fewer than 400 new cases a day. On Sunday, Florida reported over 15,300, the highest single-day total of any state.
The White House says the country has to learn to live with the virus. That’s one thing if new cases occurred at the rates in Italy or Germany, not to mention South Korea or Australia or Vietnam (which so far has zero deaths). It’s another thing when the United States has the highest growth rate of new cases in the world, ahead even of Brazil.
Italy, Germany and dozens of other countries have reopened almost entirely, and they had every reason to do so. They all took the virus seriously and acted decisively, and they continue to: Australia just issued fines totaling $18,000 because too many people attended a birthday party in someone’s home.
In the United States, public health experts were virtually unanimous that replicating European success required, first, maintaining the shutdown until we achieved a steep downward slope in cases; second, getting widespread compliance with public health advice; and third, creating a work force of at least 100,000 — some experts felt 300,000 were needed — to test, trace and isolate cases. Nationally we came nowhere near any of those goals, although some states did and are now reopening carefully and safely. Other states fell far short but reopened anyway. We now see the results.