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The notion of a trade-off between opening the economy and protecting public health has always been a false one. But in the U.S., we are now seeing proof of that in spades. Many of the states that rushed to reopen are now reporting exponential growth in new COVID-19 cases–and the inevitable, but lagging, increase in deaths as well. That will either lead them to shut down again, or, more likely, create massive uncertainty that continues to depress travel, bars, restaurants, retail shopping, school reopening, and more. For the economy, that may not lead to a second downturn, but more likely a very slow upturn, as Fortune’s Anne Sraders explains here.
When the history of the pandemic is written, the U.S. rightly will get credit for the unprecedented scope and speed of its economic policy response, but blame for the massive failure of its health care response. One small data point: As of this morning, it’s been nine days since I was tested for COVID, and still no results. (No symptoms either, fortunately.) That undercuts any notion that we can defeat the virus through testing and tracing. As Anthony Fauci said recently: “If you are going to do contact tracing and the test comes back in five to seven days, you might as well not do contact tracing, because it is already too late.”
Lots of folks can share that blame. I’d put the commercial testing services–Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp–high on my list, for their recent delays. They’ve had months to ramp up for this moment.
But at the end of day, as every CEO understands, it is leadership that matters most. The U.S. has had a massive failure on that front.