President Donald J. Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC 20500

Re: Reopening the country

Dear President Trump:

You are considering reopening the country, which is a good thing. Of course you have to consider the opinion of the medical experts. I wish you, and all of us, the best of luck in coming to a well timed and good decision.

It looks like mitigation is working spectacularly in most of the country. New York City seems to have lost control - maybe Mayor de Blasio was too late getting with the program - or maybe that was just New Yorker independence. So NYC by default has become our test site for the alternate strategy of "let it burn" to get to "herd immunity". Los Angeles (and other places) have begun random sample testing with the antibody test, so soon we should have an idea of how many people there are already immune. NYC should do it too, they have a different experience. So should Kansas City. Given the democratic leeway given to the governors, many states never went into full lockdown. Given all that data, we should have a good idea of what will happen if we ease up on restrictions.

The lockdowns, and the reported deaths in NYC, did get the attention of people, and there is fear out here. Even if you said "Let's go and take off the restrictions", governors may not; so the growls from Barr about liberty are good. More importantly, people may hesitate to resume their previous lives. For example, the reports of higher deaths among blacks and minorities, and areas like NYC, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Detroit and Chicago will make people wonder if the transmission problem has been solved for people who need to take public transit. You might want to ask your experts the question "How do deaths/infections correlate with people who use public transit?". I am afraid the answer won't be good, so you will need to show something was done to address the issue. People won't accept your word for it, or any other official. We will look at the public recommendations the CDC is making to see if our particular situation has been addressed, and to make sure nothing is brain dead about it.

For example, the new CDC recommendation to hospitals talks about improving something called "air exchange". This is a term from the ventilation industry. The recommendation as written will make them rebuild the ventilation systems to add more fresh outside air, but also enhance mixing of inside air to clear dead spots. Enhance mixing, and you guarantee that if there is one infected person in a room, everybody else will be breathing the virus laden particles he/she sheds... (I was in a line in the post office, everybody standing 6ft apart, but the PO had installed a fan that blew air down the line, stirring everything, and negating all the goodness!)

People will follow the recommendations, and in wonderfully inventive ways, but we have to be careful to ask for precisely what we need.

Making a recommendation for how to make public transit safer is a tough nut. People look at the extreme crowding in a rush hour train, and just give up. Even in less extreme situations studies show bad results. A Finnish "sky is falling" study showed even grocery stores are bad to visit. Change the details a bit, and you make being in a store (and other places) as safe as being outside a "negative pressure isolation ward". So if we don't give up there are things we can change to significantly reduce the risk of transmission on public transit, and installing the changes will advertise clearly that something was done about the issue.

So - I took the trouble to put together an example list of recommendations for different situations. Many are already implemented in some places, even before CoVID19. Taken together I think we can reduce R0 significantly without forcing people to hide in their homes. The only situation that is impossible is where people exchange pheromones. For now, I think we can take an approach that says "if you meet these conditions, you can open your business" and let businesses use their creativity to figure out a plan as to how to meet the conditions. Let local health departments determine if their plan/implementation is good enough. When we have retrofitted public transit, we can modify the restriction on use of shared transportation.

The only businesses that should remain closed after that are bars, and hookup services like Tinder. The lockdowns and death reports got our attention - keeping these closed will be a reminder that CoVID19 is still out there, and for people to be diligent about following the guidelines. This worked for HIV - only when bath houses were closed, and the concept of "gay marriage" provided a counterbalance to gay promiscuity, did the infection rate drop. When a treatment is available, or a vaccine or "slow burn" has established enough "herd immunity", we can allow them to reopen as well.

As a software development manager I have managed innovation a lot. Experts are good for avoiding stupid mistakes, but a knowledgable newbie is going to be the one who comes up with new ways of doing things. The experts have motivation to defend the old ways, and will do it by pointing out flaws in new ideas - the newbie will defend a "bad idea" by modifying it to address the criticism of the experts until "his idea" works, and becomes a "good new idea".

Once again, I trust you to come to a well timed and good decision.



PS - Bernie seems to have taken my suggestion...