• The US is widely said to be faced with a “very difficult choice” as some states look to reopen amid a rising coronavirus death toll: restarting the economy or protecting public health.
  • “How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later?” Dr. Anthony Fauci asked in an interview with CNN.
  • Some experts, however, describe a third choice they say would preserve American lives and the US economy: increasing testing and contact tracing.
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As states look to reopen amid a rising coronavirus death toll, a dichotomy has begun to form: restarting the economy or protecting public health.

Amid state lockdowns, 30 million Americans have filed unemployment claims in the span of six weeks. Yet leaked projections from the Trump administration estimate that Americans could be dying from COVID-19 at a rate of at least 3,000 a day by June 1 as states relax restrictions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s infectious-disease expert, said in an interview with CNN that the country had been posed a “very difficult choice,” criticizing the decision of some states lifting their lockdowns prematurely.

“How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later?” Fauci asked.

President Donald Trump acknowledged in an interview with ABC that “it’s possible there will be some” coronavirus deaths as states begin to roll back lockdown restrictions “because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is.”

Some experts, however, describe a third choice they say would preserve American lives and the US economy: increasing testing and contact tracing.

“I think it’s a false choice between ‘Do we want our economy open?’ or ‘Do we want to save lives?’ I think there’s a third path,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “If we had spent the last three months building up a fabulous testing-tracing-isolation infrastructure, where we were doing testing all the time, we could open up our economy and not have 3,000 Americans, 2,000 Americans, dying every day.”

Harvard researchers have said the US would need to administer at least 20 million tests a day by late July to “fully remobilize the economy” in a safe manner. Forty-five cross-disciplinary experts working under Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics compiled the plan, titled “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience.”

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The plan emphasized three integral components to reopening the US: sufficient testing, the ability to trace cases, and supported isolation.

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Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Business Insider


The lack of testing infrastructure limits the US’s perceived options, expert says

Jha said the US had “just chosen not to do the thing that gets us out of this bind, and now we’ve presented this decision of, ‘Which of these two horrible choices do you want?'”

Richard Besser, the former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, echoed the sentiment to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, saying he didn’t “think you can ask that question until you are taking every step possible to protecting preserve every human life that you can.”

“What’s not being done is that we don’t have the testing capacity now to know where this disease is — we haven’t scaled up the thousands and thousands of contact tracers that we need,” Besser told CNN. “We don’t provide safe places for people to isolate or quarantine if they’re identified as either having an infection or being in contact.”

“We are saying, ‘If you have money and you’re white, you can do well here,'” he continued, “‘If you’re not, good luck to you.'”

Besser said the government needed to focus on doing “everything possible to ensure that every single person in America can take measures to protect their own health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities.”

“That’s just not the case now,” he said. “So that’s just a false question until we are ensuring that every workplace has protective equipment.”

Dr. Esther Choo, an ER physician who is an associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University, also took issue with the dichotomy when speaking with the CNN anchor John Vause on Tuesday night. “It’s not either open the economy or choose life for people,” she said. “You know it doesn’t have to be that stark.”

“What we’re talking about is having a smart approach to this,” she continued. “Having enough testing so we know exactly where the hot spots are, having a nimble approached so that we can — when we do open we are testing and we’re doing so much surveillance that we know when it’s not working and we know early before people are going into the hospital or dying.”

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