The alternative to gradual reopenings that occur only with robust testing that can trace outbreaks to the source is a new wave of infections that will overwhelm and possibly collapse the healthcare system.
The goal of reopening needs to be to preserve human life by protecting people – especially those who are most vulnerable – from the possibility of infection. While the economic fallout is certainly disastrous, the human toll of a massive loss of life will be immense.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been leading the way in developing a vaccine that could immunize the world to the virus that has paralyzed it. Institutions all over the world – including universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies – have been collaborating. Gates is spearheading that effort.
Continuing the research and development plans that are working towards a vaccine should be a priority for governments. However, relying on a vaccine to come in the future is not an adequate plan for reopening economies, as there is no guarantee of a vaccine or when it will be available.
The shortest timeframe that has been proposed for a vaccine is 12 to 18 months. That means that one will not be available until the summer of 2021, so shutdowns may continue well into next year. It is a reality that we all need to be prepared to deal with immediately.
Many public health experts are concerned that a vaccine may not come for years, or may not come at all. If this is the case and it is here with us to stay, then we need to be prepared for our lives to change dramatically, permanently.
While waiting for a vaccine, the most important thing that states can do is implement rigorous testing programs that will trace infections to the source to contain outbreaks. Employees will need to be tested before they can come back to work.
When those employees return to work, they will need both childcare and the assurance that they can work safely. So states all across the country have a long way to go before their economies can safely reopen without risking another wave of infections, which could be much more deadly than the first one.