"The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it's to save as many lives as possible," they told the Trump administration

By Julie Mazziotta
July 24, 2020 12:47 PM
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A restaurant worker wipes down tables in Miami
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As the U.S. surpassed 4 million coronavirus cases on Thursday, more than 150 prominent scientists, medical experts, teachers and nurses signed an open letter urging the Trump administration and other legislators to shut down the country.

With every state, county and city in the U.S. in their own version of phased reopenings and soaring numbers of new COVID-19 infections, the experts said political leaders need to “shut it down now, and start over.”

“Of all the nations in the world, we’ve had the most deaths from COVID-19. At the same time, we’re in the midst of ‘reopening our economy,’ exposing more and more people to coronavirus and watching numbers of cases — and deaths — skyrocket,” the experts, which include researchers and doctors from Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley, among many others, wrote.

After most the country went into stay-at-home orders in March, they said, “you didn’t use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly.”

“Right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st. Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but non-essential activities.”

The experts say that the U.S. should shut down all non-essential business, limit restaurants to take-out only and have people stay at home except for food, medicine and walks or exercise — and masks “should be mandatory” in public spaces. They also want to end interstate travel, so states that are doing well at containing COVID-19 don’t see their numbers go up from people coming in from other parts of the country.

To properly reopen, they say, the U.S. needs to vastly increase its testing capacity so anyone with flu-like symptoms can get tested, along with their close contacts, and a “workforce of contact tracers” to keep track of all the current COVID-19 cases. The country also needs to have far more personal protective equipment, like masks, gloves and gowns, for hospital workers and grocery store workers.

“We need you to lead,” they said. “Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard. Take bold action to save lives — even when it means shutting down again.”

New cases of COVID-19 are increasing in 39 states as of Friday morning, and deaths from the virus are on the rise in 24 of those states. On Thursday, the U.S. reported just under 70,000 new infections, with 69,998, the fourth-highest daily total of the pandemic.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, previously told PEOPLE that the U.S. is struggling to contain the virus because “we don’t have a national goal or objective with what we’re trying to do.”

“What are we trying to accomplish? Without that kind of national overarching approach, you've got 50 states and larger cities all kind of making it up on their own,” he said. “I think our long-term goal should be to try to minimize the number of serious infections and deaths, through a period to get us to a vaccine that would be readily available.”

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