Georgia, according to some models, is one of the last states that should be reopening. The state has had more than 830 covid-19 deaths. It has tested less than 1 percent of its residents — low compared with other states and the national rate. And the limited amount of testing so far shows a high rate of positives at 23 percent…

This is the central problem: The vast majority of Americans are still believed to be uninfected, making them like dry kindling on a forest floor. Barring a vaccine or treatment, the virus will keep burning until it runs out of fuel.

“The trick is to keep that burn at a controlled rate,” Osterholm said. “We have focused so much on how we are dying from the virus that we have not focused enough on how to live with the virus.”

Epidemiological models suggest the best strategy for keeping the burn rate under control is to drive the number of infections as low as possible before restoring economic activity. That would then provide time to react if cases flare.

The economic devastation that would cause is significant. But those same models suggest that opening prematurely increases the likelihood that communities will have to shut back down once infections reach a certain level, creating multiple open-shut cycles. Adding to those concerns, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that a second wave of infections next winter would be even more devastating because it would coincide with flu season.