Op-EdOpinion

MORIAL: Worst COVID-19 Fears Becoming Reality

“Look at the guidelines. The leaders, the governors, the mayors, the local leaders at the county level — look at the guidelines. Many of the governors and the mayors are doing well, but it’s the people that are out there that are not listening because, as you said, they’re pent up. Please restrain that. If you follow the guidelines and do it slowly and discreetly and do it very carefully, we’ll get through this.” — Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health

Weeks ago, as some governors began to lift stay-at-home orders against federal guidelines, the National Urban League urged people to stay home. In a joint statement with other civil rights organizations, we said the governors’ actions showed “reckless disregard for the health and life of Black residents.”

Now, sadly, a surge in coronavirus infections has confirmed our worst fears. The United States set several records last week for the most infections confirmed in one day, rising above 50,000 daily for the first time. That brings the number of confirmed infections to more than 2.9 million.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only about one in every 10 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has been identified. That means more than 20 million people in the U.S. may have been infected.

Officially, more than 122,400 Americans have died from COVID-19 in just over four months. That is a higher death toll than all of World War I, or the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. It’s higher than the first wave of the deadly flu of 1918. And most experts agree the true death toll is much higher than the official count.

Contrary to the claims of the Trump administration, increased testing does not explain the surge in reported infections. The number of people testing positive is rising much faster than the number of people being tested. Twenty states currently have a positivity rate above 5%. The World Health Organization recommends rates of positivity should remain below 5% for 14 days before states consider reopening.

Arizona reported that 21.15% of tests are coming back positive. Florida’s positivity rate is 12.22%.

There’s little question that the surge is related to the rush to reopen the nation’s economy without proper safety measures in place. Earlier outbreaks were linked to nursing homes, prisons, and meatpacking plants — places where people had little choice but to be present. The current surge is linked to crowded bars, casinos, and churches — where there is little need for anyone to be present.

It has always been a dangerous fiction that our choice is between saving the economy or saving lives. The stock market tumbled in response to the surge in infections, and states are being forced to shut down businesses again. Our choice is between rebuilding the economy safely or risking thousands of lives and throwing the country into an even worse economic crisis.

Interestingly, at the same time infections are rising due to voluntary large gatherings, a study concluded that the demonstrations against police brutality did not lead to a spike in infections as many had feared. That is partly because a significant percentage of the demonstrators have worn masks.

As the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Congress this week: “Plan A: Don’t go in a crowd. Plan B: If you do, make sure you wear a mask.”

Morial is president of the National Urban League.

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