Social distancing and shutting down most of the state seems to be working. A study out yesterday reduced the expected number of new cases and deaths from COVID-19. The researchers who did the study warn that opening the state too early could reverse the progress and overwhelm the health care system. They argue that if the state keeps the current policies, North Carolina would only see 250,000 cases between now and June 1 but if restrictions are lifted, that number could rise to 750,000.

While the sickness and deaths from coronavirus still dominate the conversation, a lot of people are just as worried about the long-term impact on the economy and are looking for ways to re-open the state. Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger has been asking about random testing to try to determine the spread of the disease. Some Democrats have pushed back, calling his plan unworkable. While it’s true that we lack the testing for such an endeavor right now, it’s not an unreasonable question. 

While a vaccine is the permanent fix for this disease, testing is part of the answer to managing our social and economic life. South Korea, which was far better prepared than our country, is using testing to identify and isolate infected citizens, including many who are asymptomatic or have mild cases. To take that approach, we need far more tests than we have and I’m not sure why we don’t have them. Berger is right to ask the question, but now he should figure out how to get more tests for our state. Allocation of funds would likely remove one barrier. 

For the time being, social distancing is the best solution we’ve got. The virus requires hosts and by limiting access to people, we can starve the virus out of existence, or at least make its survival more difficult. However, it spreads easily and quickly so removing the precautions we’ve taken so far will give it new life and allow it spread unabated. 

A new study that looks at the flu pandemic of 1918 shows that places that took action earlier suffered lower death rates and recovered faster. Places that waited took longer to implemented suffered more deaths and took longer to recover economically. The 1918 epidemic is certainly not the same as the pandemic today, but comparisons are worth studying. As a state, we acted fairly quickly and are seeing better results than initially expected. 

We’re operating in fairly uncharted territory. Asking questions about different options is legitimate, not political. Senator Berger’s answer makes more sense if we have widespread, reliable testing so the question for now should be, “How do we get those tests?”  Until we have them, though, we need continue what we’re doing, at least for the time being. 

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