• Matthew Fuzi

The Aftershock: Preparing for the Second U.S. COVID-19 Surge

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

“I would hope to get to some degree of real normality within a year or so. But I don’t think it’s this winter or fall.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, elaborated on his future predictions and policy recommendations for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in an interview with British newspaper The Telegraph this week, emphasizing that U.S. travel bans from a number a countries may continue to be necessary well throughout the summer and autumn months.

“In my mind, it is inevitable we will have a return of the virus, or maybe it had never even went away,” Dr. Fauci stated in an interview with The Independent. “It is almost certain that it will come back because the virus is so transmissible, and it is globally spread."

Indeed, the Novel Coronavirus, also known SARS-CoV-2, has already begun to demonstrate a capacity for epidemiological resurgence within the United States. 

While states like Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Maryland and Virginia are reporting significant declines in the number of confirmed new COVID-19 cases, the exact opposite is true elsewhere, as the growth rate of confirmed cases in a number of other states is increasing exponentially, the worst offenders being Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana.

As of June 15th, the five most improving states have recorded an average change in the rate of new confirmed infections at approximately -47.2% over the past week, while the five most afflicted states have experienced a staggering jump in newly-confirmed cases of +57.8% since June 7th (taking into account two extreme outliers; Alabama and South Carolina have reported increases in the confirmed infection rate of +101% and +85% respectively over the prior week).

Data and models provided by National Geographic. Extracted on June 16th, 2020. 6:55PM.

Many pundits have pointed to the inconsistencies across each state in the implementation and adherence to social distancing guidelines as one of the most prominent reasons for this dichotomous disparity, citing a correlation with the direction and rate of growth/shrinkage in new confirmed cases.

In other words, states that have been more proactive in enforcing public health ordinances and have taken a more gradualist approach to socio-economic reopening are starting to reap the rewards of their efforts in the form of fewer new daily infections, whereas those states that have been more lax in encouraging social distancing or too expedient in their reopenings are now facing a dramatic uptick in new infections. 

This upsurge in new cases has observers worried that, if a second major nationwide surge in new infections becomes unavoidable as a result of these new localized upswings, statewide social distancing policies might need to be reinstated to prevent U.S. hospitals and medical care facilities from becoming over-encumbered, with some regions of the country are again reporting shortages of available hospital beds, ventilators and Personal Protective Devices (PPDs).

Such measures, despite their potential necessity if the situation continues to worsen, remain concerning for businesses of all sizes as the economy begins its gradual post-shutdown recovery, as well as for politicians, noting the general unpopularity of these emergency public health mandates, and how a reimplementation of these restrictions might impact reelection bids in the upcoming 2020 elections.

As a result, policymakers are forced to walk a fine line between ensuring public safety in the midst of a global pandemic, and appeasing the many varying interest groups and support bases necessary to return to their offices in 2021 - at best, a multidimensional dilemma with no clear-cut solution, and at worst, a zero sum game, depending on who you ask.

Among the panoply of concerns for legislators, on top of reducing viral transmission and supporting medical infrastructure, is the bolstering of strained supply chains, the sustaining of American small businesses (which made up almost half of all U.S. private sector employment in 2019), and encouraging certain risk-taking behaviors like active hiring, investment and innovation, which facilitates economic growth.

At present, the authorization of stimulus spending has been the preferred response by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, yet this kind of expansionary monetary policy worsens inflationary pressures and has a regressive impact on interest rates, which could slow future economic recovery.

Thus, Keynesian stimulus bills will only be a short-term salve.

Given the antithetical nature of public health-oriented solutions to economic woes, as well as that of economic-oriented solutions to public health woes, the keystone aspect of long-term COVID-19 policymaking will be striking a happy medium between the two, even if that entails proponents of both policy approaches remaining unsatisfied.

Matthew Fuzi is an Editor-At-Large for The National Times.