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Trump Talks About Reopening America. Is It The Right Time?


How many weeks of social isolation is enough? It is a life-or-death question. Every day that people stay indoors could save many lives, although people would also like to go out and restart the economy. Yesterday, the president leaned heavily on the side of the economy.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We're not going to let the cure be worse than the problem. At the end of the 15-day period, we'll make a decision as to which way we want to go.

INSKEEP: He's referring to 15 days of social distancing recommended by the CDC. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also says a time must come when he loosens his state's tight restrictions, but Cuomo says that's not going to be for a while, as New York's caseload soars. We have an outside evaluation of the administration's response from Ron Klain. He served as the Ebola response coordinator in the Obama administration and is now an adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Mr. Klain, welcome to the program.

RON KLAIN: Steve, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Is this the right time to talk about reopening for business?

KLAIN: Well, look - I think there's nothing wrong with talking about it. Talking about it and doing it are two different things. And I think it's important to know, first and always when we have this conversation, that at a time when many businesses are shut down, already many businesses are open.

Governor Cuomo's executive order that we refer to as a shutdown exempts 59 specific occupations that are at work today in New York. And so any of us who are working from home also need to recognize that there are a lot of Americans who don't have that option, and they continue to provide the electricity, the health care, the package deliveries - all the things we rely on in this shutdown environment.

INSKEEP: Oh, people are going to work so that the rest of us can stay at home, is what you're saying.

KLAIN: Absolutely. And that is impactful in this conversation, Steve, because that means that we're not in a kind of a national bubble where, after 14 days, this is all going to go away. Those people who are out there doing their jobs are going to continue to get the disease and - completely no fault of their own - spread it, as will our health care workers on the front lines of the hospital. So it's going to take more than 15 days for this to be behind us. That's what other countries have seen already. There's no reason to think that's not true for us.

And indeed, right now, of course, we're still on the uptick of the curve, cases mounting every day. We're nowhere near bending that curve and getting it back down.

INSKEEP: Is it also a problem that there's been a patchwork of measures by different states? Texas is doing something a little different on a different timeline than New York, which is different from Florida. Is that a problem?

KLAIN: I don't think that's a problem. It is a big country, and it's hitting the countries - the country at different times. I think it's a problem that Washington hasn't provided clear leadership. The Trump administration hasn't provided clear guidance on what the restrictions should be, how long they should last and what we should expect to see. I mean, that is, I think rather than assuming we should have a conversation about what day this should change, the thing is what conditions need to be present to make it change?

There should be ubiquitous testing so we know who has the virus and who doesn't have the virus before we send people back to work. We should know that our hospitals have the capacity to treat patients, have the staff, the gear, the equipment to treat the patients before we risk a new surge in cases. So again, I think rather than focusing on the date, there's, like, a series of tasks to be done. Those tasks need to be done. The Trump administration has failed to do those tasks already, but I think we should put those tasks back front and center in the conversation the president wants to have.

INSKEEP: So what you're saying is that this is a long fight. We discussed this on the program yesterday - might be 18 months before there's a vaccine. There is going to be another phase where more of us head out of the home, but you want us to be ready for that. What is a way to grade the federal response, to know day by day or week by week whether the Trump administration has done enough?

KLAIN: Well, look - I think the ways to grade our metrics, they're in front of all of us. Is a test easy to get? Is it free? Is it something you can get if you're sick, if you suspect you're sick? Right now that's nowhere near true. Three weeks ago, Vice President Pence said we'd have a million tests that week. Last night, he announced we're only at 330,000, three weeks later. We are so far behind on testing. And even more critically, we have this crisis in our hospitals. Patients who are getting sick, you know, are being treated by doctors who are inadequately protected.

I host a podcast, Steve, called the "Epidemic" podcast, and we have an episode coming out today with an emergency room doctor discussing what it's like in New York right now, how she had to go a whole shift with just one set of protective gear. There is no way that is the right thing in this country. We've got to get that fixed. And of course, we have to make sure we have enough hospital beds, enough doctors, nurses. This is going to get worse before it gets better. We need to...

INSKEEP: Few seconds left here. Few seconds left, Ron Klain.

KLAIN: Yeah, we need to get on top of this.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about - you were criticized in the Ebola response because you were not a medical professional. The president isn't a medical professional, but he's determined to make this decision, not leave it entirely up to the professionals. Is there a place for a political judgment here - in a few seconds - as well as a medical one?

KLAIN: Look - ultimately, it's a political judgment, but it has to be influenced by the doctors and the experts. Their views have to be the most important ones.

INSKEEP: Ron Klain served as Ebola response coordinator in the Obama administration, now advises Joe Biden. Mr. Klain, thanks so much.

KLAIN: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.