The months-long COVID-19 pandemic is putting Americans’ patience to a critical test. Despite the total infected population in the U.S. nearing one million and daily new cases barely showing signs of a slowdown, many parts of the country are ready to re-open normal life in a bid to save the embattled economy.
States including Georgia, Colorado, Tennessee and a handful others have taken steps to lift stay-at-home orders on Monday. Yet, Bill Gates, who has been closely involved with efforts to combat the coronavirus since its outbreak, warns that just because some areas are loosening quarantine restrictions doesn’t mean the pandemic is receding.
“If they open up, they can go back into exponential (coronavirus infection) growth and compete with New York on that basis,” Gates said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
To avoid that kind of rebound, the philanthropist stressed that a staged reopening prioritizing “high value” economy segments, such as schools and manufacturing, as well as widespread testing, are crucial.
“What we don’t know is, [if] we go slightly back to normal, which activities create the risk of a rebound?” Gates said. “We need to put in place a very dense testing regime so you would detect that rebound going back into exponential growth very quickly and not wait for the ICUs to fill up and there to be a lot of deaths.”
Health experts have said that the U.S. needs to perform millions of tests on a weekly basis to ensure accurate tracking of the virus’ spread before re-opening. To date, the U.S. has performed only four million COVID-19 tests in total. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force estimates that the country is currently conducting 1.5 million to two million tests per week.
In a separate interview over the weekend, Gates told the Financial Times that his family foundation, the world’s largest charity with over $40 billion in managed assets, is giving “total attention” to addressing the pandemic crisis.
“We’ve taken an organization that was focused on HIV and malaria and polio eradication, and almost entirely shifted it to work on this,” he said. “This has the foundation’s total attention. Even our non-health related work, like higher education and K-12 [schools], is completely switched around to look at how you facilitate online learning.”
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the Gates foundation has directly given $250 million to funding vaccine trials, test kit development and medical research related to COVID-19.
“You’re going to have economies with greatly reduced activity levels for years,” Mr Gates said. “So-called ‘animal spirits’ are going to be hard to find, other than government largesse. We’re definitely in the tens [of trillions], which blows the mind. If you’d asked me six months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”