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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are looking for an exit ramp away from the extreme social distancing brought on by the coronavirus, but that will require steps we're not yet prepared for.

The big picture: Responsibly easing off of social distancing will only be possible as the number of new cases levels off, and will depend on extensive testing to avoid another surge in infections.

"The problem is that the next phase of containment is contingent on resources we don't have,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Where it stands: If we're going to back off of aggressive measures like school and business closures, the next phase of the response would involve doing a lot of the things we should have done from the beginning.

  • That includes quickly identifying and isolating newly infected patients, and identifying others they may have infected.
  • Places that house vulnerable people, like nursing homes, would still need strong oversight.
  • “You need to bring down the overall burden and then you can get to the point where you can target the individual cases,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sad.

Yes, but: All of that requires fast, widespread testing, which the U.S. still can't do.

  • We’re still facing shortages of some supplies needed to make and conduct tests, and it still takes several days to receive test results.
  • “If we let up, we’ll be back to where we were before social distancing,” said Ali Khan of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

What's next: Syndromic surveillance — testing a random portion of the community — might help the U.S. get a better handle on the true prevalence of COVID-19.

  • Seattle has launched an effort to do just that, adapting an existing program that checks for influenza prevalence.
  • And the FDA recently signed off on a test that can deliver results within 45 minutes, though it's only available to help diagnose very sick patients, not to catch cases before they become severe.

Life won’t go back to normal for a long time. Normalcy will return in doses, and at different paces in different parts of the country.

  • “It’s not like a switch that’s going to be flipped. It’s going to be much more gradual. And people that are high risk are probably going to be the last ones” to see relaxed restrictions, John Hopkins’ Joshua Sharfstein said.

The bottom line: “The worst-possible outcome would be a second epidemic, a second wave…we can’t afford to have this happen again,” Gottlieb said.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel almost resigned over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel almost resigned in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelations stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.