I once heard a quote, perhaps from the movie Patton, that went something like this:
"You tell your men they have to march 20 miles the next day, and then you push them 30, they will hate you. You tell them they will have to march 50, and you let them stop at 40, they will think you are a hero."
I thought of this quote when President Donald Trump changed his message about when we should try to "reopen" the economy. Instead of Easter, as he originally speculated, the target date has now been pushed out to sometime after the end of April. For a number of reasons, I believe it was far more prudent to build in extra time rather than push for an earlier and riskier target date. And if things work out favorably, Trump will have no trouble being touted as a hero.
I mention this because it now appears the dreaded curve for new infections of the coronavirus, at a national level, will hit its peak very soon, if it has not already done so in the past week. This means the curve for the data on deaths, which is a lagging indicator, will soon peak as well. Of course, there will be variances in the timing based on region of the country. And it represents an important step toward recovery to say we will now start to shift our focus to these regional data rather than nationwide totals.
This means our national efforts at mitigation are paying off. The curve is flattening. Another clue to this is the concerted message from the Trump administration that this past week was to be the "worst" week. The Surgeon General publicly referred to last week as our "Pearl Harbor moment." In my opinion, they will choose to use such dire messages only once, and they strategically timed them to coincide with the peaks in the curves.
Nevertheless, there will still be many instances of hardship and heartache in the coming weeks. Just because we are past the peak does not mean our travails are completely over. This is not the time to forego all of the mitigation measures. But we can take heart these measures are working, and unless we completely drop the ball, the worst is now behind us.
Right on cue, I have noticed a sharp rise in questions about the trajectory of the next recovery phase. How much have we declined? How much permanent damage have we sustained? How long will it take to get back to normal? Will we ever get back to normal?