The best title for this tale was devised by my Hoover Institution colleague, the economist John Cochrane. He called it “The Dumb Reopening.” A smart reopening is the sort that has been possible in countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, which were so quick to ramp up testing and contact tracing that they didn’t need to do lockdowns in the first place. Among European countries, Germany and Greece have also successfully adopted these methods, which ensure that any new outbreaks of Covid-19 can quickly be detected, so-called super-spreaders isolated, their recent contacts swiftly traced and tested, and the outbreaks snuffed out.
Other signs of smartness are the persistence of behavioral adaptations by ordinary people, such as social distancing and wearing masks. We know that these practices, which can be adopted by citizens without any government decree, are effective in restricting the spread of the virus SARS-CoV-2.
Less widely appreciated is that social distancing is more effective as policy than lockdowns, as a forthcoming paper in the journal Nature shows. This is also the implication of work by researchers at Oxford’s Blavatnik School who show that there is no correlation between the stringency of government measures and containment of Covid-19. Measures designed to protect groups that are especially susceptible and vulnerable to Covid-19 — notably the elderly, especially those with pre-existing conditions — are also smart.
A dumb reopening eschews all such precautionary measures. So is that really what the U.S. is doing? The answer is pretty much yes. Testing has improved, but contact tracing is primitive. And social distancing and mask-wearing are least prevalent where reopening is happening fastest.
The U.S. isn’t following the example of countries that have shown what a “smart reopening” entails https://t.co/Oa6oEA18LZ
— Bloomberg Opinion (@bopinion) June 22, 2020