Apr 2, 2020 - Health

A new American coronavirus consensus

A hospital tent city rose in Central Park this week. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Something surprising is unfolding amid the finger-pointing and war-gaming about the coronavirus threat to America: A general consensus is forming about the next 60 days of wait and pain.

Why it matters: America has a chance to return to some semblance of normal in late May or June, gradually and perhaps geographically, but anything extending beyond that would still be too catastrophic to consider.

  • Virtually every state will be in some form of quarantine up until that point.
  • Death tolls will rise high, possibly beyond 100,000. But the combination of increased testing, social distancing, medical supplies and public awareness should avert the worst scenarios.
  • The $2 trillion rescue package will float the U.S. economy this month. Unemployment will skyrocket — before the stimulus, projections topped 30%. But help is on the way to blunt some of the damage, making the chances of catastrophic collapse much lower than a few weeks ago.
  • Businesses will still be destroyed, more than most realize. But the days of either party caring about Fed actions, congressional spending or simply doing too much are over, for now. Another big rescue package will be needed as we sort through the wreckage — and it could be bigger than the first.
  • College students are home for the rest of the academic year — and now face questions about employment and internships. And while it hasn't been made official for all K-12ers, it's hard to see any school reopening before summer.
  • The threat of a post-summer viral resurgence is real, and likely. But the country will also be far better prepared to test, isolate and potentially heal. 
  • A realistic vaccine produced and distributed at scale likely won’t be a reality until at least 2021, though there is hope experimental versions will be fast-tracked before. 

One thing to watch: A growing number of Fortune 500 CEOs worry this consensus underplays the danger to the U.S. economy if America stays at home beyond April. 

  • Once next month rolls around, many fear the chances of an economic snapback fades.

The bottom line: It will take years, if not a generation, to dig out of the debt, lives and jobs lost. But those conversations will be punted until coronavirus is behind us.

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