President Donald Trump declared Thursday afternoon that he would not allow the U.S. to undergo another life-saving lockdown in the event of a so-called "second wave" of the coronavirus outbreak that has yet to significantly abate in the first place.
"We are going to put out the fires," said Trump. "We're not going to close the country."
As The Hill pointed out, Trump does not have the power to order or enforce lockdowns:
The decision on whether to reintroduce restrictions in the event of a second wave would ultimately fall to state governors, not the federal government. While the White House issued guidance to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 it was governors who instituted stay-at-home measures and ordered businesses to close.
However, the president's word carries weight and can indicate what the federal government will—or won't—do in the event of another surge in the disease's spread across the country. As Yale psychiatry professor Bandy X. Lee noted on Twitter, the "first wave" has not ended, meaning that the idea of a "second" wave of the disease is somewhat inaccurate.
"There will not be a second wave of the pandemic," Lee said. "There will only be a continuation/worsening of the first wave."
In early May, a University of Minnesota study warned that the pandemic could last for two years and urged leaders to acknowledge that fact.
"Risk communication messaging from government officials should incorporate the concept that this pandemic will not be over soon and that people need to be prepared for possible periodic resurgences of disease," wrote the paper's authors.
The president has instead repeatedly underplayed the severity of the disease and the danger it poses to public health. Those comments, and a rush to reopen the country, could result in a massive resurgence in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths—and economic catastrophe.
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"If a second wave of infections hits, we will be coming out of a bad GDP shutdown with a high unemployment rate and a debt-to-GDP ratio greater than 100% and projected deficits for this year are already $5,000 per American household," MIT professor Jonathan Parker told CNBC. "A second wave of infections would be, I think an even more major economic disaster than the current one."
According to the the National Post, Trump's mismanagement of the crisis going forward courts more disaster:
In the U.S., nine scientists who previously worked for former president Barack Obama have published a seven-page document warning the current government that the clock is ticking—it must prepare for the next wave.
The scientists' statement warns that the country only has three months to gather enough medical supplies to survive any resurgence, and to avoid a repeat of the massive shortage of supplies that contributed to the country’s initial chaotic response to the virus.
The president's comments on not closing the country came during a tour of a Ford Motors factory in Michigan where he did not wear a mask despite guidelines to do so in a move that was described by the state's Attorney General Dana Nessel as "extremely disappointing and yet totally predictable."
Trump's re-election chances are widely understood to rest on the health of the economy and the president's downplaying of the coronavirus plays into sending a message that the disease isn't as serious as it appears. Research released this week indicates that a slow response on the part of federal and state governments in the U.S. led to thousands more deaths from the disaese than would have occurred otherwise.
The response from the White House thus far to the outbreak has been faulted on nearly every front, with the White House's use of aid as a political tool and rejection of health guidelines coming in for particular criticism.
Thursday's remarks were more of the same, leading journalist Walker Bragman to remark that the president's rejection of science and public health recommendations indicated a fundamental rot at the heart of the federal government.
"We are witnessing the complete breakdown of the United States government," tweeted Bragman.