Many people are thinking about policy through this crisis as though the country will be largely shut down for many months. This is not going to happen. The length of this shutdown will be determined by Donald Trump, not science, and he is not going to allow a shutdown of many months regardless of what the science says.
We know that Trump was hugely resistant to the shutdown all along. Just over a week ago he was boasting about how we would have full church pews on Easter. The idea that this could mean hundreds of thousands of additional infections and tens of thousands of deaths apparently did not enter his head.
Fortunately, some of the public health experts were able to deter his Easter Sunday plans, but it is widely reported that he is anxious to end the shutdown and get back to business as normal. After all, the shutdown is depressing the stock market.
A factor that is likely to push Trump further in this direction is the fact that several European countries are making plans to reopen parts of their economy. Both Austria and Denmark plan to end parts of their shutdown in the next couple of weeks. Undoubtedly Trump will be driven into a rage by the idea that Europe, China, South Korea, and other wealthy countries are back on their feet, while Donald Trump’s America is still in shutdown mode.
Of course, these countries have done a far better job testing and controlling the virus, which makes them better situated to reopen their economies (it may still be too soon for them), but Donald Trump doesn’t care about such details. The governors will actually make the call on reopening their states, but it is hard to imagine many red-state governors resisting the demands from Trump to reopen.
The Democratic governors of states like New York and California may be reluctant to go along, but Trump will have zero qualms about threatening them with denials of medical equipment and other resources if they don’t fall in line. Also, the Republicans deliberately starved the blue states of money in the last rescue package. The cost of remaining shut down will mean not having the money to pay the salaries of the police department, the fire department, or for the medical care of people suffering from the coronavirus.
So, when we ask how long the shutdown will last, don’t look to the rate of spread of the pandemic or what the epidemiologists say, look to Donald Trump’s anger and frustration. We will stay shut down as long as his fragile ego will allow, and not a day longer.