When Do We Dial Back the Coronavirus Red Alert?
The costs of an extended lock down are real and substantial, and fall disproportionately on less privileged members of our society.
The exponential increase in Covid-19 infections has triggered a number of federal and state emergency measures requiring shelter in place, banning large gatherings, and shuttering retail establishments and eat-in restaurant dining. Some are now objecting that these restrictions are crippling our national economy. They ask for an end date when these restrictions will be lifted. Building a national consensus now, based on scientific and prudential considerations, will allow for a smooth economic restart later.
The last time the United States faced a national crisis comparable to the pandemic was the onset of large-scale terrorism heralded by the attacks of September 11, 2001. As part of the response, the U.S. government initiated a sliding scale of protective security restrictions reflected in a color coded threat warning system, scaled from green to red. Green was the (theoretical) color of no threat, and other shades culminated in red, the alert for credible and specific intelligence that a terror attack was imminent. A red alert mandated the highest level of readiness, including limitations on movement, potential lockdowns, and heightened vigilance and anxiety. During my tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security, we triggered red only once, in August 2006 when we and British authorities narrowly foiled an advancing plot to blow up numerous transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives.
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