Opinion | White House

Trump's desire to reopen the country by Easter may not be far-fetched

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

President Trump's suggestion that he would like to see the country begin reopening by Easter, which is April 12, has met with a lot of skepticism. But it may not be that far-fetched.

While almost all of the news about the coronavirus pandemic has been negative, there are reasons to think things won't be as bad as many of the news outlets and talking heads are predicting. Here are some of them:

The vast majority of cases end in recovery. Keep in mind that the vast majority of infected patients recover from the virus, usually in a couple of weeks.

The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center appears to be the best site for tracking international, U.S. and even state coronavirus cases. It reports a total of 441,000 confirmed cases worldwide at this writing, with 19,800 deaths.

But it also tracks the number of "recovered" cases: 112,000. And that's small because most of the confirmed cases are relatively new. In China, for example, there have been 81,600 confirmed cases, but 73,700 recoveries - along with 3,300 deaths.

How often do you hear reporters talk about the recovered cases? I almost never do. But the vast majority of infected patients will recover relatively soon.

The death projections could be overly pessimistic. Some have predicted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of coronavirus deaths in the United States.

Maybe, but count me as skeptical. China was the epicenter, and it has 3,300 deaths. It isn't clear why the United States should expect to have many multiples of that number.

And, fortunately, we have an expert making the same point. Michael Levitt is a biophysicist at Stanford University and the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Levitt told Chinese authorities in the third week of February that the cases would peak at about 80,000, with about 3,250 deaths. On March 16, China reported 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths.

Some additional cases have emerged, but the "confirmed cases" curve is essentially flat. Levitt got it right.

Levitt now thinks the U.S. curve is already flattening, so if we keep up "reasonable" social distancing and avoid large crowds, things will begin to improve soon, he says. While he warns, "What we need is to control the panic," he adds, "We're going to be fine."

The United States isn't China. And speaking of social distancing, Henry Olsen writes in the Washington Post that that U.S. population density is a quarter that of China, less than one-fifth of Italy's and about one-fourteenth that of South Korea. That's important because infectious diseases tend to spread faster and wider in dense populations - hence, New York City's challenge.

The left hates that Americans prefer to drive their own cars rather than take public transportation, and that they like to spread out by living in the suburbs rather than hunkering down in tiny apartments in the big city. Yet those very factors may reduce the spread of the disease.

As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pointed out when he declined to impose a state-wide shelter-in-place order, more than 200 Texas counties have no cases of COVID-19. 

The virus may not affect most people. There is a growing number of scientists who suggest that far more people may have contracted COVID-19 but have experienced few or no symptoms. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was asymptomatic when he was diagnosed with the disease. 

The South China Post reports that a new study of Wuhan, where the coronavirus apparently originated, suggests that nearly 60 percent of the Wuhan population may have contracted the disease but showed few or no symptoms. 

If that's the case, it means that the death rate from the virus is much lower than current figures indicate - perhaps lower than the flu's.

In addition, a new study from Oxford University's Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group suggests that the disease has spread much wider than thought and that people are developing "herd immunity." "If the results are confirmed, they imply that fewer than one in a thousand of those infected with Covid-19 become ill enough to need hospital treatment," said Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, who led the study. "The vast majority develop very mild symptoms or none at all," the Financial Times reports Gupta as saying.

This is not to dismiss the work of the various health officials and first responders who are doing their best to prepare for a widespread strain on the U.S. health system. They need to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios.

It's just to point out that there are reasons to hope this crisis may pass sooner and with less economic and human damage than we are being led to believe.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

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