Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier
Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier

Public health experts have warned against prematurely scaling back social distancing measures, arguing that it would harm efforts to contain the virus and devastate U.S. hospitals.

President Trump, worried that the faltering economy could hurt his re-election campaign, is considering pivoting away from the public health steps taken in recent weeks to address the growing coronavirus, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Some Republican lawmakers and White House advisors have argued that the impact on the economy has grown too severe and urged Trump to loosen restrictions on social distancing. Meanwhile, senior health officials, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci, say the worst is yet to come.


The 15-day period Trump referenced began on March 16.

Fauci and other public health experts have warned against prematurely scaling back social distancing measures, arguing that it would harm efforts to contain the virus and devastate U.S. hospitals, the Post reported.

There are currently more than 41,000 cases of the coronavirus in the United States and 499 Americans have died, according to a database from Johns Hopkins University. Those numbers will continue to grow and may not peak for weeks or months.

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The social distancing efforts are intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which is extremely contagious and has been spreading like wildfire. Hospitals face shortages of personal protective equipment, ICU beds, and ventilators and if transmission of the disease does not slow, American doctors may go the way of Italian ones and be forced to ration care, choosing who lives and who dies

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams emphasized that things would start getting substantially worse this week.

“I want America to understand — this week, it’s going to get bad,” Adams told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday. “We really, really need everyone to stay at home.”

Despite these warnings, some Republicans are urging Trump to prioritize the economy. Among the conservatives pushing for Trump to reopen parts of the economy are Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), as well as conservative economists Steven Moore and Art Laffer. 

Johnson voted against the coronavirus relief bill providing paid leave to some workers, telling USA Today that he was worried about “incentivizing people to not show up for work”—which, of course, was the exact point of the bill. Allowing workers to stay home would help prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

“We have to keep things in perspective and we got to keep our economy,” Johnson said.

The fears about the economy are not unfounded. Unemployment claims have gone through the roof in the past week, and the national unemployment rate could reach as high as 20%, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Of equal concern to Trump is the stock market, which has plunged 30% in less than a month.

The Post reports that one option under consideration is a gradual scaling back of current restrictions, where healthy people under 40 would return to work on a certain date, followed later by people aged 40 to 50.

Democrats and some Republicans oppose a pivot, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) telling the Post, “You can’t have a functioning economy if you have hospitals overflowing. People aren’t going to go to work like that.”

This isn’t the first time Trump’s concern about his re-election campaign has guided his decision making during the coronavirus pandemic. The president reportedly declined to pursue more aggressive testing for the disease in January out of fear that more positive cases would hurt his re-election effort.

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Epidemiologists worry that if Trump reopens the economy too quickly and loosens social distancing measures, it could prove devastating. 

“We haven’t yet even seen signs that the growth is slowing, much less reversing. Now is the time to tighten restrictions on contacts that could transmit the virus, not loosen them,” Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told the Post. “If we let up now we can be virtually certain that health care will be overwhelmed in many if not all parts of the country.”

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