A little gallows humor: What do Julius Caesar and America as we knew it have in common? Both died on the Ides of March (March 15). That date was, indeed, roughly when America began to shut down to one degree or another. But will America be reborn on (or before) the Fourth of July?
There is much debate lately about how and when to ease lockdown/shutdown restrictions and re-open the country for business. Unfortunately, neither side seems to do nuance very well if at all. Opening up everything or nearly everything all at once overnight would of course be reckless and cavalier, risking a resurgence of the virus (and associated deaths) and eroding much of the progress that has been made thus far. But continuing the status quo indefinitely (or even simply taking too long to ease restrictions) is also not very wise either since that will do irreversible economic damage and likely will still not conquer the virus entirely. Thus, if we wait too long, there may not be anything left to re-open by then, at least for small businesses. And that's to say nothing of the adverse consequences to civil rights and liberties, mental health, and community cohesion as well.
(And you know, slopes are much, much slipperier than they appear, as Orwell spins in his grave.)
Even the supposed effectiveness of full lockdowns (compared to far less extreme restrictions) in terms of slowing or stopping the spread of coronavirus has been called into question by more recent studies comparing those locations that had lockdowns and those that did not, or differed in the timing. The results strongly imply that the observed declines in COVID-19 deaths (and thus the number of infections three weeks prior) was actually driven by the more moderate social distancing measures that were in place earlier, not the lockdowns, based on the timing. And if there somehow was any extra effectiveness of the most extreme measures such as lockdowns, it is most likely only a short-term effect that eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns after which the "cure" really DOES become worse than the disease.
Perhaps the much-maligned Swedish mitigation strategy of moderate social distancing (not to be confused with the mythical "do nothing" strategy) really isn't so crazy after all?
Thus, a careful and gradual but fairly speedy easing and re-opening is what is called for, in order to minimize the damage from both the pandemic itself as well as from the restrictions in place to suppress it. The timing should vary by state and locality as well as exactly which types of restrictions to be eased and which types of businesses to re-open. It would probably be best for all states to wait until at least May 1 or two weeks post-peak (whichever is later) before making any major changes (though baby steps can and should be taken sooner). Some states have already peaked in early to mid-April, while others will not peak until early May or so. Hospitals would also have to not be overwhelmed as well. And testing will have to be signifcantly ramped up along with contact tracing and individual quarantining as well in order to move forward into the later stages of reopening.
And of course we need a far more massive stimulus, and the Ten Steps to Prosperity that Rodger Malcolm Mitchell recommends. Because even if we re-opened tomorrow, consumers will still be too cautious to come roaring back right away, and the damage is already done. Especially a significant and permanent UBI, which would cure even the worst depression a lot sooner than not implementing a UBI.
Trump's latest guidelines for reopening are surprisingly reasonable now, likely because he finally consulted with experts rather than just going with his gut as usual. But his administration is really lagging on providing coronavirus testing kits, which would clearly hamper any reopening. So they really need to speed that up. It was, after all, due to the Trump administration's recklessness and negligence that this pandemic got so far out of control here in the first place, and it is estimated that up to 90% of the deaths could have been averted had they acted sooner and not screwed up so monumentally.
Thus the TSAP recommends that all states gradually lift lockdowns and partially reopen by Memorial Day (with many states doing so in early May) and fully lift all significant restrictions (except perhaps for restrictions on very large gatherings of, say, 500+ people) by the Fourth of July at the latest. But states like Georgia that seek to re-open salons, barber shops, gyms, casinos, bars, and stuff like that while it is still April (and they haven"t even peaked yet) are really being foolish, as those riskier businesses should really be the very last ones to re-open after all the others do. They should really wait another few weeks for those types of places and make sure they actually have a plan rather than flying blindly.
At the local (county and municipal) level, some hotspots may choose to still maintain tight restrictions or reimpose them in the event of a resurgence of the virus, but these restrictions should be exactly that--local. In a similar vein, states may also impose modest, New Rochelle-style "containment zones" or "red zones" where local outbreaks or large clusters are observed. As we move past the initial crude "sledgehammer" phase of suppression and into the more refined management phase, we need to be careful in how we calibrate such measures to avoid doing more harm than good in the long run.
As for school closures, that should really be decided locally for the most part. While school closures are known to work very well in the short term in slowing the spread of infectious diseases in general, the longer-term effects are unknown, and children and teens seem to be at relatively low risk from this virus as well as not a particularly major vector for spreading it to adults. Certainly they should at least plan on reopening in September at the latest absent evidence of a large second wave of the disease.
Regardless of the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of lockdowns, simply going straight from red to green overnight would be utterly foolish, since it's really still too soon to safely encourage a massive influx of tourists when the "all-clear" signal is given. So we should thus go from red to orange, then yellow, then green, and we really only need a few weeks (not months) of orange and/or yellow in between. And even green does not preclude very mild restrictions and common-sense precautions as well.
We have already flattened the curve. Now let's keep it flat, without also flattening the economy as well.