President Donald Trump expressed frustration during a White House media briefing Monday night about how shutting down public activities nationwide amid the coronavirus pandemic threatens to disrupt the U.S. economy. Hours later, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security sounded off on Twitter that curtailing the restrictions would be detrimental.
Tom Inglesby tweeted a long thread Monday night, which has been shared by thousands of people, highlighting how social distancing and other limitations have stopped the spread of COVID-19 in other countries. Inglesby is one of the doctors advising Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan every morning on his coronavirus task force.
“Anyone advising the end of social distancing now, needs to fully understand what the country will look like if we do that,” the health security director tweeted. “COVID would spread widely, rapidly, terribly, could kill potentially millions in the yr ahead with huge social and economic impact across the country.”
In an interview Tuesday, he said he felt he had to say something publicly given Trump’s comments and others from people who believe that social distancing orders should be lifted.
“I had been hearing and seeing various kinds of prominent voices and editorials and hearing people in and out of government talking about the near-term need to end social distancing so that the economy could get going again, and I have real serious concerns that if we do that soon, this epidemic will spread uncontrollably across this country, and in a way that would overwhelm our health care system,” he said. “So I wanted to just make that clear.”
About a week ago, the Trump administration recommended Americans halt almost all activities. On Sunday night, the president said: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
At Monday’s briefing, the president doubled down on his statement and said he may soon allow parts of the nation’s economy, in regions less badly hit by the virus, to begin reopening, contradicting the advice of medical and public health experts across the country, if not the globe, to hunker down even more firmly.
“Let's go to work," he said. “This country was not built to be shut down. This is not a county that was built for this.”
Lloyd Blankfein, the former Goldman Sachs chief executive, wrote on Twitter that “crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue" and suggested that “within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.”
There are 349 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland and more than 53,600 across the country. Worldwide there are more than 417,500 positive cases. More than 18,500 people have died across the world, including 703 U.S. deaths. Four have been from Maryland.
Inglesby reminded people in his tweets that the number of those who tested positive for the coronavirus is likely much higher. Due to a shortage of COVID-19 tests, not every person who is symptomatic is being tested.
Though Inglesby never mentioned Trump by name in his tweets, the director pointed at Asia, saying the continent has lowered the pandemic’s pace by properly using social distancing for nearly two months. He emphasized that it takes time to see the impact of that practice.
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“The impact of big interventions in Wuhan China took about 3 wks to start to reverse things. And then everyday after the situation got better,” the tweet said. “In the US, we’re about 7 to 10 days into this, depending on the state. To drop all these measures now would be to accept that COVID pts will get sick in extraordinary numbers all over the country, far beyond what the US health care system could bear.”
In the tweets, Inglesby emphasized the need to continue moving ahead with closing schools and with encouraging people to telecommute and avoid gatherings.
Inglesby also warned in the tweets that removing any of the preventive measures to combat COVID-19 would overwhelm hospitals and endanger those with life-threatening conditions.
He said that before making changes to social distancing, there is a need for more doctors and personal protective equipment, such as gowns, masks and ventilators. Inglesby said there will also be a need for airport screening and a serology test to identify those who may have been previously infected but recovered.
Once those measures are in place, Inglesby said, it would be a “far less risky time to take stock of social distancing measures in place and consider what might gradually be reduced with trial and error.”
“We also need to put every conceivable econ program in place to help those being hurt by these social distancing measures,” he said. “And move ahead rapidly to get our country far better prepared to cope w COVID before people recommend we abandon our efforts to slow this virus.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector and the Associated Press contributed to this article.