As the president’s economic advisors continue to paint a bleak picture of the future of the economy under quarantine, Donald Trump is beginning to weaken in his resolve to maintain the strict social distancing recommendations that have shuttered the nation.
But health experts are telling the president that’s not long enough and are warning against prematurely restarting the economy.
“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this. It was not built to be shut down,” he said during an evening briefing at the White House, even as he acknowledged Monday the effects of coronavirus are likely to worsen.
“Certainly, this is going to be bad,” Trump said.
The dueling positions underscored the dynamic currently animating Trump’s coronavirus task force, which is split on whether the self-isolating measures are worth the cost to the economy.
If Trump thinks the economy will recover in time for the election, he’s kidding himself. But he is right to weigh the health benefits of a shutdown against the economic disaster from a prolonged cessation of most business activity. Quite literally, millions of businesses and tens of millions of jobs are at risk of simply disappearing. It wouldn’t be a “recession” or even a “depression.” It would be an economic collapse.
But the president’s health advisors are adamant.
“It is way too early to even consider rolling back any guidelines,” said Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former top Obama administration public health official. “With cases and deaths rising by the day, the country must double down, not lighten up, on social distancing and related measures.”
It’s a battle that will intensify in the coming days as the country approaches the end of a 15-day period of extreme social distancing, which the White House launched on March 15.
At a White House briefing Monday night, Trump seemed adamant that the economy would come back to life “very soon,” insisting that the government can fight the viral spread while also going to work — “we can do them both at the same time.”
Yesterday, 100 Americans died of COVID-19. But Trump appears to be trying to justify restarting the economy by citing suicides caused by tough economic times.
At his regular coronavirus briefing on Monday evening, he spelled out his dilemma to reporters: “You have tremendous responsibility. We have jobs. We have … people get tremendous anxiety and depression, and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies. You have death probably in far greater numbers than the numbers we are talking about with regard to the virus.
If people go back to work before the virus is contained and the number of infections slows, it will be a national catastrophe. Trump says the economy wasn’t built to be shut down. But the American healthcare system wasn’t built to handle so many seriously ill people at the same time.
Lest anyone thinks things are getting better or, not getting any worse:
The #COVID19 pandemic is accelerating. It took 67 days from the 1st reported case to reach the first 100K cases, 11 days for the second 100K cases & just 4 days for the third 100K cases.
These numbers matter, these are people, whose lives & families have been turned upside down. https://t.co/VydhLBNq36
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 23, 2020
Given how the spread of the virus is accelerating so alarmingly, Trump may want to start trying to get life back to normal, but will be politically unable to do so.