the coronavirus crisis
"Terrifying though the coronavirus may be, it can be turned back," Donald McNeil Jr. writes in Sunday's New York Times. "This contagion has a weakness," spreading mostly though "clusters of family members, friends, and work colleagues" for reasons nobody fully understands. "But experts see an opening nonetheless," he adds. China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have largely stopped the spread of the new coronavirus, and the U.S. could, too, with "intelligent, rapidly adaptive work by health officials, and near-total cooperation from the populace." That means strict adherence to "extreme social distancing," McNeil explains:
If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt. The virus would die out on every contaminated surface and, because almost everyone shows symptoms within two weeks, it would be evident who was infected. If we had enough tests for every American, even the completely asymptomatic cases could be found and isolated. The crisis would be over.
Obviously, there is no magic wand, and no 300 million tests. But the goal of lockdowns and social distancing is to approximate such a total freeze. [The New York Times]
President Trump aspired to something like that in an all-caps tweet Sunday night, evidently after watching a segment on Fox News.
The U.S. isn't China, though, or even South Korea, and the U.S. has gotten a late start. Trump also isn't proposing any of the strict shelter-in-place measures that have worked in Asia and failed when rolled out slowly and piecemeal in Italy, leaving states and local governments to come up with their own, wildly divergent responses. Regardless, it's "not at all clear that a nation so fundamentally committed to individual liberty and distrustful of government could learn to adapt to many of these measures, especially those that smack of state compulsion," McNeil writes. That leaves persuasion as America's best hope.