Mar 24, 2020 - Health

Trump's huge coronavirus gamble

Illustration of Uncle Sam holding on to an IV.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump is eager to ease off of stringent coronavirus mitigation steps “soon,” he said yesterday, but that would have a calamitous impact on Americans’ health — and it’s not clear how much it would help the economy, either.

Why it matters: For now, the only way to avoid large numbers of deaths is to keep people away from each other to stop the virus' spread. And as long as the coronavirus is spreading, it’s likely to hurt the economy.

Driving the news: "This is a medical problem. We are not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem,” Trump said in a press conference yesterday.

Between the lines: Missing from Trump’s rhetoric is any real acknowledgement that the situation is going to get worse in the near term.

“A policy of returning people to work too soon should be called the ‘let old people die already’ policy,” a former Trump administration official told me.

  • If Trump decides to release the brakes in a week — and if states follow suit — the number of coronavirus cases would likely skyrocket far beyond anything the health care system can handle.
  • This is when truly horrific things can happen — like patients suffering as health care providers are forced to make in-the-moment decisions of who lives and who dies.

The big picture: The number of confirmed U.S. cases is still rising at an alarming rate — and that’s not counting the thousands who have it but are unable to get tested.

  • That number is expected to continue to rise, even in states that have implemented strong social distancing measures, because it takes a few days for people who have the coronavirus to display symptoms.
  • There are also plenty of states that have yet to implement strong containment measures and plenty of people who aren’t abiding by them.

Reality check: The choice between saving lives and saving the economy may not even be a real one.

  • If the virus' continued spread causes people to still be concerned for their health, and they don't start spending money again in droves, then service workers may be putting their health back on the line for weak demand and a lackluster rebound.

The bottom line: Most of this decision-making power lies with the states states, making what Trump decides to do in the next week somewhat of a moot point.

  • But plenty of Republicans take their cues from the president, and if people try to resume their pre-coronavirus lives in the near future, the pandemic could easily spiral even further out of control.
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