I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you’d like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.
Amid all the reopening talk this week, Dr. Tom Inglesby, a leading expert on pandemics, reminded us: We will not have complete “normal” – no masks, fully social – until we have a vaccine.
Experts continue to say that won’t be for 12 to 18 months. Inglesby says there is a scenario where we could have a widespread vaccine by July 2021. (But he also says if things don’t go as hoped for, “all timelines are off, and you’re back to the drawing board.”)
So when we report, or you hear, about a state “reopening,” he says that is just the first part of the sentence. Reopening what? Parks? Restaurants? Under what conditions?
Reopening does not mean back to normal.
Even if governments lift restrictions, he said, individuals still have responsibilities: “If we can continue to wear masks when we’re in indoor spaces in public, if we can continue to be mindful of being 6 feet away from each other, and if we can telecommute even if we’re allowed to go to work, those things alone could make a big difference.”
Inglesby is the director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Tuesday, he gave the USA TODAY Editorial Board a sober look at the road ahead.
The bottom line: “It’s not going to be a perfect system.”
Staying shut down has consequences, too.
“We are not going to reduce the epidemic, in any place, to zero before we have a vaccine and there’s been wide-scale vaccination,” he said. “So the country is going to have to tolerate a level of risk and spread in order to have any resumption of any of the functions that we had before.”
Even now, he said, even with this level of lockdown, we’re still seeing around 25,000 new cases a day in the country. This week, about three months after the first confirmed U.S. case, we passed 1 million total.
Parents across the country (I’m one of them) are anxious to know what school will look like in the fall. What we’re hearing: Staggered schedules. Spaced desks. Classes in gyms.
USA TODAY education reporter Erin Richards talked to more than 20 educators across the country to understand what they are planning.
She learned that the school week could look “vastly different, with most students attending school two or three days a week and doing the rest of their learning at home. At school, desks are spaced apart to discourage touching. Some classrooms extend into unused gymnasiums, libraries or art rooms …”
“Arrival, dismissal and recess happen on staggered schedules and through specific doors to promote physical distancing. Students eat lunch at their desks. Those old enough to switch classes move with the same cohort every day – or teachers move around while students stay put – to discourage mingling with new groups.”
Kids seem to have less risk for getting sick, or have fewer symptoms. But early research shows they can carry and spread COVID-19 even if they don’t show symptoms themselves — a big concern for their parents, teachers and other school staff.
And what about that fall surge? This week Dr. Anthony Fauci said a second wave is inevitable, and how we prepare will determine how we do.
“If by that time we have put into place all of the countermeasures that you need to address this, we should do reasonably well. If we don’t do that successfully, we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter,” Fauci said Tuesday.
The current coronavirus models predict more than 70,000 U.S. deaths in this first wave. That, too, depends on our actions, he said. If states have a system of “identifying, isolating and contact tracing” as they begin to reopen, the model should hold.
“If we are unsuccessful or prematurely try to open up, and we have additional outbreaks that are out of control, (deaths) could be much more than that,” Fauci said. “It could be a rebound to get us right back in the same boat that we were in a few weeks ago.”
But predicting a fall surge doesn’t mean there will be a summertime lull, Inglesby said. Again, it comes back to what the states do.
“I don’t think that any of us should think that there’s going to be this quiet period between now and September or October,” Inglesby said. “The (World Health Organization) does not. And they’re sitting looking at data from around the world. The National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. has studied this and doesn’t believe there’s any evidence of seasonality yet. Maybe we’ll be surprised. That would be wonderful. But I don’t think we should bank on it.”
The federal government says that in order for states to begin lifting restrictions, they should have a downward trend in confirmed cases over a two-week span and hospital capacity to treat all patients without crisis care.
But as staff writer Jorge Ortiz reported this week, it’s up to the governors to decide when and how to lift restrictions in their states, and they’ve got different very ideas on when and how to do that. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allowed some nonessential business, like hair salons and gyms, to open last weekend, while California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his state is weeks away from significant changes to its order.
“We’re going to have a risk of this pandemic throughout this year,” Inglesby said. “Each state is going to have to be driving forward with eyes wide open.”
These are truly life-and-death decisions. So we’ll be watching – eyes wide open – and reporting what we find.
We’ll be monitoring every state – restrictions and openings, cases and deaths – so you can, too.
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Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] or follow here on Twitter here. Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free experience or electronic newspaper replica here. You can subscribe to this newsletter here.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Reopen states carefully danger for economy schools health