Fauci: Let's face it, not reopening soon enough could cause "irreparable damage"

Trumpers are dunking on him for this on social media, which I half understand. I don’t understand imputing to him some absolutist position like “don’t reopen until we have a vaccine.” That’s a caricature of his view pushed by people who want to reopen immediately and find it easier to contrast their own position with a straw man about locking down forever instead of with the federal guidelines that Trump announced last month. Remember those? Fauci contributed to them. The whole point of drafting them was to advise states on how to reopen for business.

But I understand the criticism as a matter of tone. He sounds a lot more bullish about reopening in the clip below than he did 10 days ago when he testified before the Senate. What changed since then? Surely the complexion of the epidemic hasn’t changed so dramatically across the country in 10 days that his top concern now is the “irreparable damage” we’ll face if we delay reopening too long.

Another thing. There were some pretty specific quantifiable criteria listed in the guidelines for when moving to the next “phase” of reopening is appropriate. Yet I’ve never seen Fauci or Birx or anyone else in the White House attempt to apply those criteria to numbers in a given state or community.

It should be simple enough for the CDC to run the numbers for every county in the U.S. and announce who’s met the criteria and who hasn’t yet. If states still want to reopen even if they don’t qualify, that’s their call, but it’d be nice for the feds to let residents know whether their local government met the safety recommendations or not. There appears to be no effort to do that. Even from Fauci in this clip, all you get are general references to the guidelines without any willingness to say which states specifically should move more cautiously than they’re doing.

Which means that the guidelines are now effectively meaningless, as far as I can tell. Watch, then read on.

Is it true that sustained lockdowns can produce irreparable damage? One medical center in California is already seeing it happen:

Doctors at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek say they have seen more deaths by suicide during this quarantine period than deaths from the COVID-19 virus.

The head of the trauma in the department believes mental health is suffering so much, it is time to end the shelter-in-place order…

“We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time,” he said. “I mean we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”…

“What I have seen recently, I have never seen before,” Hansen said. “I have never seen so much intentional injury.”

The medical center issued an institutional statement affirming that it continues to support the local stay-at-home policy. Whether the economic damage that’s been suffered nationally is also irreparable is a different question, but the early evidence out of reopened Georgia suggests that economic recovery won’t be rapid.

Weekly applications for jobless benefits have remained so elevated that Georgia now leads the country in terms of the proportion of its workforce applying for unemployment assistance. A staggering 40.3 percent of the state’s workers — two out of every five — has filed for unemployment insurance payments since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns in mid-March, a POLITICO review of Labor Department data shows…

“Think of a restaurant: They’re not going to be able to bring back their entire staff because they’re just not going to have the clientele,” said Laura Wheeler, associate director of the Center for State and Local Finance at Georgia State University. “That’s going to hinder the return of the workforce, because while we’re going to open up, we’re not going to open up to the full capacity that we were at before.”

Consumer confidence, not lockdowns, is the problem. Politico notes that two-thirds of Georgians said in a recent poll that they thought the state was reopening too quickly, although maybe the failure of a second wave to materialize there (so far) has since reassured some of them that it’s safe to go out. An AP national poll taken a few days ago showed Americans still reluctant to partake in many pre-pandemic activities, although they’re coming around on shopping for non-essential items.

Gallup also found people more willing to socialize — but only a little:

Here’s Deborah Birx at today’s briefing encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors this holiday weekend while practicing proper social distancing, of course. Reportedly the White House is looking at data from a study showing that some southern states, especially Texas and Florida, are at special risk of a resurgence of the disease over the next four weeks but if Fauci or Birx acknowledged that in their prognoses for reopening today I missed it. Maybe they’ve reached the conclusion that neither Trump nor governors nor Americans are going to listen to them at this point if they urge people to slow down before reopening and so they’re resigned to sit back and hope for the best. Maybe masks and social distancing can avert a second wave. If they can’t, consumer confidence will collapse and there’ll be a new lockdown in practice soon enough, even if no formal orders are issued.

Exit question: Which governor bucked the national trend and extended her state’s lockdown into mid-June today? You know who.

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