When would Biden reopen the country?

Byron York asks this very good question. So far, Biden doesn’t really have an answer.

Biden has set forth three vague conditions that he says must be met before the country reopens. First, “we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly.” Second, there needs to be “widespread, easily available, and prompt” testing. This means “we should be running multiple times the number of diagnostic tests we’re performing right now.” Third, hospitals have to be “ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again.”

The first and third conditions are satisfied nationally and in many states. The second condition hasn’t been met yet, at least not to Biden’s satisfaction. Byron reports:

This week, Biden published a Medium post in which he argued that there is still a “massive shortfall” in testing. “We want our country to get moving and healthy again,” Biden said, “but we must take the necessary, rational steps, grounded in science, to do so safely.” That appears to suggest he would not reopen any activity currently shut down until the “massive shortfall” is eliminated.

In the two pieces cited above, Biden does not explain why the number of tests needs to be “multiples” higher than the current number before American can begin reopening, once his other two conditions are satisfied. Nor has he said how many multiples the number of tests needs to be increased by.

Byron points out that Biden did not use the word “states” in his op-ed setting forth the three vague conditions for reopening the country. It looks like his standard for reopening is a national one.

But why, even if we accept Biden’s conditions, shouldn’t states reopen if they have (1) a significantly declining number of cases, (2) hospitals well-equipped to deal with flare ups, and (3) the capacity to trace and test the contacts of those known to be infected? Why should states be asked to wait until these conditions are met nationwide?

Biden’s decision to be vague might make political sense. No one really knows where things are headed with the pandemic, so why not use the luxury of not being in charge to remain non-committal?

But Biden’s approach is not without political risk. Biden can credibly be accused, as Byron suggests, of setting conditions he knows can’t be met for months in order to justify keeping the country shut down. If, in November, voters are more focused on the economy than on the virus, Biden may have said enough to hurt his electoral prospects.

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