Testing, Reopenings and Magical Thinking

April 28, 2020 2:06 p.m.

TPM Reader PK follows up on reopening …

I was struck by reader JL’s comments and your statement that, “We shouldn’t assume that the states that are in the process of opening up will quickly see dramatic resurgences or outbreaks. There’s a lot of complexity under the hood distinguishing one state’s plan from another.”

I think that’s exactly right and it is why I was so disturbed by a NYTimes opinion piece that ran this weekend from Brown University President Christina Paxson. It offered a bold plan to reopen college campuses around the country by the fall, talking about changes ranging from keeping large classes online to wearing masks and minimizing large gatherings.

Twelve paragraphs into the piece, it becomes clear the entire plan depends on the availability of rapid and repeated COVID-19 tests.

At no point is there an acknowledgement that we’re not quite there yet. There’s no hint that the Trump administration has been consistently lying about the ease and ready access of testing. Not even a glimmer of recognition that the federal government has essentially told states “you’re on your own” when it comes to testing and another essentials.

To me, this seems as dangerous a bit of magical thinking as some of the nonsense coming from White House. I can understand that a college president in Rhode Island, where they have been leading the country in terms of state testing per capita, might feel good about being able to move forward with a fall opening. But how does Christina Paxson expect large state flagship institutions that may be four to five times larger than Brown in terms of enrollment to pull this off? Specifically, does she really think states like George and Florida, which have not been as consistent and effective in promoting social distancing as Rhode Island are going to be ready to roll in the fall? (Opening the beaches and bowling alleys may force us to rethink their approach to public health in a pandemic during the next two weeks.)

I’m flummoxed that this kind of thought piece, displaying a rather callous disregard for the reality of where our country is at in terms having a rather scattershot approach to social distancing, would be floated out there now. I was furious a few weeks ago when the NBA and MLB floated the trial balloon of setting up some locations where they could play in June and seal off players/manager/coaches and have a strong testing regime in place…at a time when we couldn’t even offer such regular testing to our frontline health care workers. It seemed tone deaf and, quite honestly, offensive.

I’m not sure we’re in a place where seeing a major university leader call for a return to face-to-face business on campuses this fall is any less diisheartening. I’d rather see a thought piece on the need to get serious about testing, because if we don’t, any talk of coming back for the fall is a dangerous pipe dream.

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