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UW modelers working to figure out when (and if) country can reopen

UW is now working to help figure out when the economy can be reopened. (Getty Images)

The University of Washington’s model has quickly become the national standard for predicting the future of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Now, the UW is working to develop a new model to figure out when the country’s economy can begin to reopen.

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“We will model ‘what if’ scenarios: If we go back to what we call normal by the first of May, by the second week of May, and so on,” Dr. Ali Mokdad told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

Dr. Mokdad and his team at the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation are looking to collate these “what if” scenarios to give us a sense of what social distancing measures — if any — we can relax at any given time, and when it might be safe to do so.

That said, none of that will matter if the U.S. doesn’t see sizable improvements to its testing and tracking infrastructure.

“The most important part is our ability to do testing and find out who’s infected,” Mokdad said. “Our public system has to be able to trace these cases, who they came in contact with, and do the proper isolation.”

“If we don’t have these measures, we cannot open business as soon as we’re hoping to,” he added.

Despite that advice, President Trump recently questioned the need for more widespread testing as a requirement for reopening the economy.

“Do you need it?” he posited at Thursday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing. “No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes.”

Ross: If the economy does reopen in May, there’ll be a catch

For Dr. Mokdad and many other health experts, though, testing is an essential part of mitigating a scenario where the virus rebounds after we relax social distancing measures.

“I’m very cautious right now because I don’t want a setback,” he noted.

So, how expansive will testing need to be in order to safely reopen the economy? According to Mokdad, the U.S. will need a system where anyone can access instant, convenient tests anywhere across the country.

“Unless we are comfortable that all the tests we need are available where they need to be, we shouldn’t consider going back to normal,” he warned.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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