Apr 17, 2020 - Health

Why reopening any state now is a gamble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Reopening any state in the U.S. right now — even the ones with low caseloads — would be a big risk.

The big picture: Places with low caseloads can easily become hotspots if they don't plan correctly. And no state has a plan to address the increase in coronavirus cases that looser social distancing will likely bring.

Driving the news: Some states "will be able to go literally tomorrow," President Trump said yesterday, as he released the administration’s blueprint for beginning to reopen the economy.

  • But at the same time, several states, including New York, have extended their shelter-in-place orders into May.

"I have not yet seen any place amass the plans or the resources to do that," said Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Between the lines: Places that don't have many confirmed cases now are still susceptible to new waves of infection.

  • Although rural and suburban areas haven't yet been hit as hard as cities, "there's nothing that makes those places immune from coronavirus," said Harvard's Ashish Jha. "It will just take much longer, because the spread is going to be slow."

Testing is still a big part of the problem.

  • The number of confirmed cases almost certainly underrepresents the real number of cases. And to safely manage future outbreaks without extreme social distancing, we'll need to be able to find and isolate people who are sick but don't know it yet.
  • Most of the country isn't prepared for that level of testing.

The bottom line: "It's not so much about the case numbers," Nuzzo said. "It's also about whether we have the strategies or the resources in place to deal with the cases that will emerge after the measures are put in place."

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