“If they open up, they can go back into exponential (coronavirus infection) growth and compete with New York on that basis,” Gates said, adding that areas that reopen and allow people to move around could also seed infections in other parts of the country, further slowing the recovery from the pandemic.
How to reopen
“What we don’t know is, (if) we go slightly back to normal, which activities create the risk of a rebound?” Gates said. “We need to put in place a very dense testing regime so you would detect that rebound going back into exponential growth very quickly and not wait for the ICUs to fill up and there to be a lot of deaths. If you see the hot spot, you kind of understand the activities causing that.”
In two suggested plans for reopening the US economy, public health experts and economists said that the country would have to perform millions of diagnostic tests each week before restrictions could be safely lifted.
Gates said Sunday that new testing machines and methods should soon be able to get the United States up to between 400,000 and 500,000 tests per day, though that’s “just barely enough for really doing the tracking.”
As the country ramps up testing and tracking, cities and states must have a staged reopening of various parts of the economy, Gates said, though he admitted “we’re a little naive about how to prioritize these activities.”
Gates said that when planning for staged reopenings, states should focus on “high value” segments of the economy such as schools, manufacturing and construction, and should figure out how to operate those things with masks and social distancing. Once some schools and businesses get back to work, communities should continue to track the effects on infection rates.
But it will take time.
“The inequality has gotten greater in education, so if we can figure out how to do K through 12 in the fall, that would be good,” Gates said. “I even think if we’re creative about it and things have gone well, we’ll be able to do college.”
The case for continued prevention measures
“It’s very hard to compress these timeframes,” he said.
He did say, however, that he wishes he’d been able to get more people to understand the threat posed by coronavirus sooner.
“I always think, how could I have gotten the message out in a stronger way? Where did I fall short?” he said. “Only 5% of what should have been done was done.”