The dreaded second wave may strike all too soon
Dozens of U.S. states are starting to reopen their economies, hoping to ease the economic pain brought on by pandemic-fighting restrictions. But by doing it now — before meeting even minimal criteria for a safe reopening — they are inviting disaster, our science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. writes.
The states lifting restrictions now “are living in a dream world,” Donald told us. “They’re desperate to reopen — and they’re right to feel that. But they have convinced themselves that it’s safe to reopen, and it’s not.”
As a result, the much-feared second wave of infection may not wait until autumn, many scientists told Donald. Premature, scattershot reopenings may instead bring on a storm of wavelets, breaking unpredictably across the country.
“We’re not reopening based on science,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration. “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”
Some key takeaways:
Masks. Evidence is mounting that if all people wear masks in public, they are far more effective at stopping transmission than was previously realized. But outside New York, California and a few other states, many Americans resist wearing them.
Contact tracing. The goal of tracking and testing the contacts of every infected person remains very far out of reach in the United States. To keep up, the country would need 30 or 40 times as many trained contact tracers as it has now, 100 times as much testing and a budget of $1.5 billion a week.
Time lag. The effects of the reopenings will not be immediately apparent, because it takes two or three weeks for newly infected people to become very sick. People may let their guard down — and make the second wave worse.
Having states and territories all doing competing and uncoordinated experiments in reopening is “daring Mother Nature to kill you or someone you love,” Dr. Frieden said. “Mother Nature bats last, and she bats a thousand.”
Europe tiptoes (unevenly) out of lockdown
Countries across Europe took some of their biggest steps toward easing restrictions on Monday. But they did it mostly region by region, calibrated to local risk. And daily life remains far from the pre-virus norm.
In France, residents were allowed the leave their homes without government paperwork for the first time in eight weeks — except in Paris during the morning and evening rush hours. Some “nonessential” businesses reopened, some schools welcomed back students and some hair salons were fully booked. Cafes, restaurants, bars and theaters remain closed at least until June.
Germany eased restrictions in most areas, but not in three states where the number of new infections was deemed too high. Gyms were allowed to reopen in the country’s most populous region. Many houses of worship are open again, although congregants are asked to maintain social distance and to refrain from singing. Germany is also reopening some schools (see next item).
Half the population of Spain can now meet in groups of up to 10 people, eat at outdoor bars and restaurants and visit shops. The other half — largely those in densely populated cities like Barcelona and Madrid — remain under tight restrictions.
The German school experiment
Reviving global economies may hinge on the safe return of students to school, allowing parents to fully re-enter the work force. But there’s no consensus on how to go about it — and we still don’t know how readily young people transmit the virus.
Germany’s approach may prove to be a model. Some schools there are offering free self-administered coronavirus tests. The testing will help reassure students and teachers about their safety, and perhaps help answer whether schoolchildren can be “super spreaders” who can infect many others while showing few, if any, symptoms themselves.
Older students have been allowed to return first, on the assumption that they will be better at following rules on masks and social distancing. They’ve been told to dress warmly, because windows and doors are being kept open to circulate fresh air. Smaller classes, one-way hall traffic and staggered breaks are also part of the plan.
What you can do
Prevent childhood trauma. Here’s how parents can help children use the stress of coronavirus shutdowns, which can leave them traumatized, as an opportunity for growth.
Rethink your wedding. In the podcast “Together Apart,” Priya Parker, a professional conflict facilitator, talks about celebrating your big day during a pandemic.
Find a new way to cope. Try your hand at making a papier-mâché “coroñata” — a piñata shaped like a coronavirus particle, naturally — and then smash it to smithereens.
What you’re doing
We’ve been exploring new ways of cooking and eating, out of necessity. I’m keeping a hard-copy file of all our new recipes and meal hacks, annotated with the date made and level of lockdown we were in, as well as ingredient substitutions, etc. I’m going to scan these into a PDF to preserve all the notes and splatters, and make a Covid-19 recipe book to hand down through the family.
— Billie Lythberg, Auckland, New Zealand
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