Public-health experts have known for decades that an abstinence-only message doesn’t work for sex. It doesn’t work for substance use, either. Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay—at least not forever.
#StayHome had its moment. The United States urgently needed to flatten the curve and buy time to scale up health-care capacity, testing, and contact tracing. But quarantine fatigue is real. I’m not talking about the people who are staging militaristic protests against the supposed coronavirus hoax. I’m talking about those who are experiencing the profound burden of extreme physical and social distancing. In addition to the economic hardship it causes, isolation can severely damage psychological well-being, especially for people who were already depressed or anxious before the crisis started. In a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans said that the coronavirus pandemic has harmed their mental health.
Meanwhile, most public-health experts agree that a premature return to the old version of normalcy would be disastrous. States continue to lack the capacity for widespread coronavirus testing or contact tracing. Serologic testing to date suggests that the majority of the population is still susceptible to infection. A vaccine is months or even years away. New cases continue to rise, with thousands of people dying each day, and those numbers will inevitably increase if communities go back to business as usual.