The Economy Will Not Open Up Without a Credible Plan to Address the Public Health Crisis

Donald Trump is abandoning his own Covid-19 strategy because it got hard and he’s a quitter

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Like many countries, we picked a strategy to beat COVID-19. We just decided not to stick to it. It’s a long and difficult road, and after we climbed halfway we decided it was too hard and chose to roll back down the Hill.

But we’ve only flattened the curve, we haven’t crush it. The virus is still there. And we only flattened on average. In most places, the virus is still growing. I shared this a couple days ago:

If you look at the country minus New York, from April 25 to May 1, cases have GROWN from 24,322 to 28,437. So outside of NY, positive cases are increasing by 17% per week. Even if case growth doesn’t go up, that would put us over 50,000 new cases every day outside of NY by Memorial Day.

This difference isn’t a result of testing. During that time, testing has gone up by 30% in NY vs 12% in the rest of the country.

In fact, if you look at death rates in the top 10 major metro cities, NY is the only one falling. And the top 10 hot spots in the country are rural towns, only 1 hot spot in New York state.

Covid-19 hasn’t stopped being infectious just because we’ve socially isolated. Nothing magic happened while we were home.

A new kind of lazy thinking has made its way into the intellectual (and kind-of anti-intellectual) dialogue. I’ve had four different news anchors ask me to respond to how Chris Christie thinks we should approach pandemic response. His thinking boils down to: it’s too hard. We’ve got to open up the economy because it’s too hard to get enough testing and contact tracing to make people feel safe.

They want to start a food fight between the hardened realists who can tolerate death to “get our country back”, and the “public health mafia who are willing to kill the economy for the sake of a few people who will die soon anyway.” And if those people say that death toll is going to be big, they’re just alarmists.

There is a major fallacy here. There is no plan, by Chris Christie or otherwise, to bring the economy back without addressing our public health crisis. The reason is, he can’t. Without a credible plan to address the public health crisis, tell me how consumers start buying cars, how small businesses sign leases, or employers start hiring? They don’t.

This may preoccupy and entertain us with something besides dealing with the actual virus, but I don’t need to be invited to debate opportunities on the topic.

There is, however, a plan to slowly and steadily bring the economy back, but only by solving the public health crisis. It was put forward by…the Trump White House all of three weeks ago. It had gates and stages, and hinged on conditions on the ground. But none of the conditions have been met.

Rather than wait, Trump grew impatient. He wants life to go back to the way it was before the pandemic. He wants the economy growing. I don’t know how to explain it to him but let me try.

All this takes work. He says he disbanded the Task Force midstream — before the job is done — because at some point we have to go back to normal. Trump acts like keeping Americans safe is a bridge too far.

This is not easy. But it’s not impossible either. Other countries are managing to keep people safe and open their economies. If you think this is because of country size or testing, it’s not.

Covid-19 seems to be a uniquely tough American foe. The rest of the world is figuring it out. The Czech Republic did it with masks. China with isolation. Germany with testing. Hong Kong with experience. New Zealand with alerts. Greece with discipline.

  • Hong Kong: “Oh, but they’re an island.” Yes. So is Manhattan. Contagion on a dense island can be a disaster.
  • New Zealand: “Oh, but they’re remote.” Well they had a color coded warning system like we announced. But they stuck with it.
  • Korea: “Oh, but they’re too authoritarian.” Actually no. Everything was opt-in/optional.
  • Germany: “Yeah, but Merkel is a scientist.” And where did they get all those tests.
  • Greece: “We could never show that discipline!”
  • Czech Republic: “But they have to wear these arcane masks!”

Point is — this can be done. Not perfectly. Not without loss of life. Not with a perfect economy, but with testing and tracing and masks. It’s a strategy if you can stick to it. The cost of these lessons is already too high. It is not beyond our power to change it, but we have to face it first.

In case you think I haven’t gone into the details of the strategy.


Contact tracing:


We had a strategy. Trump gave it a few weeks and then decided “liberate!” Basically, he’s a quitter.

Not that the Task Force was a fountain of straight talk. But he doesn’t need a task force to hawk fake cures. If anything he’ll have more latitude. What we will have is even less accountability. And less coordination. And even less visibility.

His strategy will be now to talk about rushing a vaccine by September instead. I am all for that. But maybe hit a layup or two before you tell me how you’re going to sink a shot from half court.

One thing is clear. Our government has a higher tolerance for unnecessary deaths than other countries. School shootings, shootings in church, at concerts, in night clubs. People in nursing homes. Meat plants. Prisons.

As David Frum told me, it’s impossible to get an A in managing a pandemic. There are no silver bullets. But it’s really not hard to get a B. Listen to experts. Create a plan. Show empathy. Stick with it. It’s the best you can be expected to do.

Our expectations are simple. The truth, no matter how hard. To know that our safety matters. A plan which uses all our tools and best thinking that we stick with. Candor in discussing the tough trade offs.

We’re not getting that.

Former Medicare, Medicaid & ACA head for Pres. Barack Obama.