A Second Shutdown

July 12, 2020 11:01 a.m.

I had been working last night on a lengthy post, covering a range of topics, but with emphasis on the fact that we may be going back to a second shutdown because of how catastrophically we bungled the epidemic in this country. If this happens it will mean all the struggle and sacrifice of the Spring, along with at least a trillion dollars of crisis spending, will have been wasted.

Along those lines I’m looking now at a press release for a Meet the Press interview this morning with Admiral Brett Giroir, a key Trump administration pandemic official. Asked about calls for another shutdown Giroir says: “I don’t think we need to shut down, at least in most places around the country.”

This is obviously meant to push back on the idea. But it is quite revealing that one of the few Trump administration officials the White House still allows to go on TV is himself conceding that it may be necessary in significant portions of the country.

Here’s the full exchange …


Is there any — he’s [Dr. Michael Osterholm] basically advocating in order to get control of this we got to shut down right; we didn’t shut down correctly the first time. Do you concur with that opinion that we didn’t get this right the first time?


I think Mike’s a really smart guy and I listen to a lot of things he says, I read this newsletter, we’re going to have him very involved. But I don’t think we need to shut down, at least in most places around the country. Our models really show that if you close down bars, where there’s a lot of transmission, if you decrease restaurant capacity to about 50 percent, that you really strictly physically distance, and really, everybody, if you’re out in public, we have to have about 95 percent mask-wearing or face coverings. If we do just those simple things, we can bring that our R-value, that transmissibility value down to below one, which means it goes away. So I think we need to be very selective. Sure, if we shut everything down again, that would do it, but we don’t need to. And remember there’s a tremendous health cost to shutting down, mental, emotional, substance use. But also no cancer screenings, no vaccines, all those other things. So let’s do what we know really works. Like I said, avoid bars, because they really do spread. Restaurant capacity down 50 percent, hand hygiene, and please wear a mask in public. That is really really really important. We’ve got to have 90 or 95 percent adherence to that, and we could, we could achieve the same results.

There’s a lot of truth in what Giroir says. We’re learning more and more about what really drives COVID spread. The problem is that once you have exponential growth in a region you often need to take short-term, drastic action to get the situation under control. Then you can do what he says and be okay: Tight limits on in-door congregation, universal masking, social distancing, much tighter filtration in in-door air ventilation, hand hygiene. The problem is that what can keep spread in check can’t necessarily get it under control when it’s in growing exponentially – or at least not nearly quick enough.

This is the tragedy of our catastrophically bungled national response. We were supposed to use the lockdown, achieved at such immense sacrifice, to make all this possible. We didn’t. Not in most of the country.

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