Fauci: We don’t make the timeline on reopening for business, the virus makes the timeline

Military commanders like James Mattis are known to caution about battlefield strategies that “the enemy gets a vote.” This is an epidemiological version of that.

The enemy gets a vote:

You don’t have to give the enemy a vote. You can order a Pickett’s charge into the teeth of the virus, while it’s still spreading out of control, and accept whatever casualties it inflicts. Which is what General Trump would be doing if he started beating the drum about getting back to work too soon. Maybe Colonel Fauci can talk him out of it.

In Trump’s defense, it’s hard to stick to a battle plan like coast-to-coast social distancing when you’re already taking casualties like this:

That’s a Pickett’s charge into the teeth of an economic depression. It is and will remain difficult to comprehend that that’s the least bad option available to us, even though it clearly is.

The Times has visualization posted today which you can fiddle with to compare a brief period of social distancing to a longer period. (Scroll down to the end to tweak different variables like when the period begins, what the assumed hospitalization rate is, and so on.) Lots of assumptions are made about the virus’s infectiousness and lethality since we don’t have much hard data yet, but the big picture is that the crunch on hospitals differs drastically depending on how soon social distancing starts, how long it remains in effect, and how diligently it’s practiced. In one scenario, the difference between two months of social distancing versus 14 days of it is 14 million infections versus … 128 million.

Even so, I think this is precisely right about where we’re headed:

Consider two stories on the wires today. One comes from the Times, which reports that the outbreak in Louisiana — made worse by the incredibly foolish decision to hold Mardi Gras as planned last month — may be accelerating more quickly than any coronavirus outbreak on Earth. It seems very likely that the state will soon be America’s most dire COVID-19 hot spot after New York. Rationally, you would think governors of neighboring states would view this with alarm and start banging the drum to their own residents to distance themselves from others as much as possible, knowing that there’s destined to be an outflow of infected people from Louisiana just as there was from Wuhan. But that’s where the other story comes in: Tate Reeves, the governor of Mississippi, just signed an executive order overriding local bans on public gatherings. Reeves’s order limits public gatherings in the state to no more than 10 people but exempts all sorts of businesses as “essential” — offices, factories, “retail shopping,” on and on.

This is obviously Reeves’s way of echoing Trump by insisting that Mississippi will remain open for business even though it’s on the doorstep of one of the most ominous outbreaks on the planet. We “reject dictatorship models like China,” he said in a Twitter post about his decision, at a moment when the U.S. is a day or two away from blowing past China’s official numbers (assuming they’re worth anything) as the world’s coronavirus epicenter. The key point from epidemiologists about social distancing practices is that they’re less useful every day you wait to impose them. The virus spreads like a fire, and there’s a difference between using a fire extinguisher when a blaze is still the size of a stove than using it when it’s the size of a house. If/when Reeves is forced to start closing offices and factories eventually anyway, the spread in Mississippi will be much harder to control.

What’s strange about this is that most of the major outbreaks so far are in major cities in blue states with high density, like NYC. You would think red states would want to move aggressively to protect themselves from outflow from those areas. Instead Reeves is tearing down barriers to the virus because that’s what MAGA orthodoxy momentarily calls for. And Kelly’s entirely right that when there’s an outbreak in Mississippi that was perfectly foreseeable and could have been limited with more patience and prudence, Trump will blame New York for it instead of his own impulse to open up sooner than was advisable.

I wonder when U.S. states start restricting travel from other states across their borders. That’ll be a fun constitutional case.

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