There is no doubt that the COVID-19 situation will have dire economic consequences and impact our careers and jobs. Both fresh graduates and seasoned workers are worried about their future prospects.
Despite the rapidly growing damage to the economy, workers and people’s emotional well-being, surveys have shown popular support for the coronavirus lockdown. Patience is limited, however, and public sentiment could turn on a dime, particularly as the economic toll deepens. This week, everyone is talking about reopening the economy, from governors to President Trump.
I believe that America should be reopened in a careful manner to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infection in the future. According to a report by American Enterprise Institute on steps to reopen America, at least 750,000 people a week should be tested. We should follow the decisions taken by health experts and then follow the reopening process.
The economy cannot remain shuttered indefinitely; the federal government cannot engage in endless cash expenditures on the basis of treasuries nobody is buying. The vast majority of those who will lose their jobs are not day traders but workers. Small companies are more likely to go under than large ones. The economy isn’t an abstraction. It’s the real lives of hundreds of millions of Americans, and costs to those Americans must be weighed in the balance.
Public policy is the craft of weighing risks and rewards, and policymakers do it every day. It’s just that, this time, the stakes are the highest they have ever been.
So when do we reopen and how? The biggest problem is that we lack the data to answer the question. How many lives will be lost if we take heavy social measures after how many weeks? Moderate social measures? What will be the concomitant economic gain or loss? How many additional ICU beds and ventilators will we need to make available in order to clear the flattened curve? Our goal should be to move from the Chinese model (total lockdown) to the South Korean/Singaporean model (heavy testing, contact investigations and social distancing). In order to accomplish that, we need to flatten the curve and stop the spread, allowing us to reset. How long will that take?
These questions are unanswerable at the moment, but we should reopen in a step-by- step process driven by data. We should prioritize manufacturing industries and healthcare. We should make sure that every American has access to healthcare facilities. We should provide them with N95 masks, ventilators and needed PPE, especially for our health care workers. The National Institute of Health (NIH) should also consider upgrading their research funding, especially towards infectious disease research, and should fund the projects without any major restrictions to support researchers in vaccine development studies and in many other clinical studies.
People might argue that we should go for a complete economic lockdown, but I disagree. I am not weighing out human lives for the sake of dollars. But everything should be gradual.
When reopening shops and shopping malls, the government should be concerned with opening shops of up to 400 square meters first and then follow opening shopping malls, larger retail businesses and finally restaurants and dine-in options. Also, if restaurants could utilize disposable menus it would be a great precaution to stop the spread of viruses. Restrictions could be eased first in places where the presence of the virus is weak, and rigorous testing and contact tracing should prevent a sudden explosion in infections.
We should reopen America by implementing effective containment strategies, activating and enhancing emergency response systems, dramatically increasing testing capacity and care for patients, readying hospitals, and developing life-saving medical interventions. It’s time to reopen - responsibly.