Bringing America back to work!

Rick Baker

April 13, 2020

How and when does America get back to normal?

Tuesday, President Trump is announcing his Reopening Council, the group that will advise him on the task of recovering from the Covid19 disaster and bringing America back to the country that we enjoyed just a few months ago.  This is welcome news.

Up to now, we have been told that the solution to the crises is to “flatten the curve,” meaning stop the steep rise of Covid19 cases in our cities and regions.  We have done that by obeying the emergency power orders of mayors and governors to huddle in our homes and practice social distancing in order to slow the spread of the disease.

The self-isolation of America’s society appears to be slowing down the spread of the disease that President Trump has called the “invisible enemy.”  That progress has come at a price.

Our churches have been closed for Easter, our individual rights to assemble and gather have been curtailed by edict and our nation’s economy has been brought to its knees.

These impacts of America’s self-isolation, so long as they are temporary, may prove to have been worth it if we have succeeded in delaying the spread while our health system ramps up capacity.  Think ventilators, N95 and surgical masks and other PPE, hospital beds, medical personal, therapeutics, virus test kits and antibody test kits.

But we can’t stay home forever.

What happens after we succeed in bending the curve down in a particular region and decide we want to leave our houses?  Some experts have called this virus “more contagious than any we have ever seen.”  Assuming that we will not have a vaccine or eradicate the disease in the near term, won’t people get infected once they try to return to a normal life?

The curve is bending down because we are staying home.

But we can’t stay home forever.  The long-term impact of our economic shutdown – if prolonged – could forever change our nation and the balance of power in the world.

As the President’s Reopening Council addresses this dilemma, here is an approach for a starting place:

  • Virus Testing. Continue and accelerate the massive deployment of Covid19 tests so we can accurately identify and isolate all who have the virus, both now and in the future.
  • Antibody Testing. Accelerate the development and deployment of antibody testing so we can identify people who have already had the virus.
  • Health Care System. Project the needs of the health system to respond to this virus as we return from isolation and continue the Trump Administration’s herculean effort to ramp up to needed capacity.  This includes the development, testing and use of therapeutics.
  • Staged Return from Isolation. When we are comfortable that we have reduced the cases in a region to the point of allowing a cautious return to normal, develop a plan for each region that addresses the following, among others:
    • Testing. Virus and antibody testing:
      • For those who have the antibody – if we believe they cannot get it again – then they are no longer a risk to others and there is no need for social distancing.
      • Going forward we must have the ability to test and identify quickly those who have the virus so they can be treated and isolated.
    • Protecting the Vulnerable. Develop a plan for the elderly and those with existing medical conditions that make them more vulnerable, to ensure that they are not exposed until a vaccine is available.  This will likely include an enhanced continuing level of social distancing and protection.
    • Reduced Social Distancing. For the rest of us, develop a Reduced Social Distancing Plan that allows people to return to work and life while still maintaining some level of social distancing.  Consider masks, gloves, testing of individuals for oxygen level and temperature.  Consider the levels of gatherings that are appropriate.  Consider continued international travel restrictions – should domestic travelers be screened in any way?  All of this is subject to the continued progress in the vaccine and therapeutics efforts, which can change everything.

We need to understand that the world has now changed.  As we work to bring our nation’s economy and society back, we need to begin the process as soon as possible while making deliberate, cautious steps so we do not restart the rapid spread of the invisible enemy.

Rick Baker is a senior fellow at Sagamore Institute and served as the mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida from 2001-2010.

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