On Thursday, the Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission met for the first time. At the meeting, seventeen experts hammered out a general five-phase plan to “save lives and livelihoods” by defeating the coronavirus and jumpstarting the economy. Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the commission’s work.
In order to slow the spread of the virus, President Donald Trump has urged Americans to stay home, practice social distancing, and avoid going into the office if their work is not “essential.” State and local leaders have issued various orders, and businesses have moved to remote work or laying off employees. Unemployment has skyrocketed, Americans are having trouble paying rent, and millions are hoping America can reopen sooner rather than later. President Trump originally said he hoped to reopen the country by Easter, but that seems too ambitious.
“Good public health policy is good economic policy, and vice versa,” Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation, said in a statement. “If the economy fails, there will be severe, long-term health consequences; and if the health care system fails, there will be severe, long-term economic consequences. A nation decimated by the disease cannot have a functioning economy, and a catastrophic loss of jobs wreaks horrific damage on both mental and physical health.”
Therefore, the commission announced a five-phase plan to reopen the economy while also combatting the virus.
1. Regional reopening
The commission’s plan calls for a regionally-targeted approach for reopening. America must “return to a more normal level of business activity at the regional level based on scientific data.” Much as it would be inspiring to reopen the country all at once, coronavirus hotspots like the New York City area will likely require restrictions longer than most other parts of the country.
Even this tentative step, however, would not be taken until the health care system has been stabilized, enhanced testing has been established, and the spread of the virus through social contacts has been better understood, according to the plan. As businesses reopen, they will still be required to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing.
2. Expand mitigation
As America considers reopening most businesses, scientists will need to expand testing, reporting, and contact tracing regarding the coronavirus. The commission’s plan calls for strict adherence to CDC guidance on social distancing until new cases begin to decline for at least 14 days. It also advocates for increased resources to regional public health departments to “expand testing, reporting, and contact tracing of those possibly in contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases.”
3. Build the science
The commission also calls for an investment in the science of the coronavirus. America should “increase the availability and rapidity of new diagnostic tests, while supporting the acceleration and introduction of proven therapeutics and vaccines.”
It will not be enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Scientists must learn more about this pathogen and determine how best to respond to other new strains.
4. Launch an economic recovery
The Heritage Foundation commission calls for “U.S. leadership in leading the free world in economic recovery.” The plan envisions “risk-informed measures to reestablish international travel while limiting the threat of reinfection.” America should partner with allies in “empowering economic freedom and partnerships in free markets among free people.”
5. Prepare for future pandemics
The coronavirus has opened America’s eyes to the risk of too much reliance on China. Beijing arguably violated international law by silencing doctors, delaying lockdowns, and lying to the world. In recent decades, the U.S. medical supply chain has become reliant on the very same China this coronavirus came from.
For these and other reasons, the Heritage Foundation commission plan calls for supply chain reform in pursuit of the broader goal of reducing the future risks of pandemics. It also calls for investment in national and state stockpiles, strategies to build up resource capacity, plans to develop vaccines for coronaviruses, and an “international biosurveillance network to detect and contain emerging infections diseases.”
Each of these five stages is essential for any plan to reopen America. When managed in tandem, these stages will help balance the twin demands of fighting the virus and encouraging an economic recovery.
Naturally, this blueprint represents the beginning of the commission’s work. “The announcement of the commission’s phased plan for reopening is just the beginning of its approach to getting the American people back to work. In the coming days and weeks, the commission will hear from other experts and consider ideas that the American people are already sending us,” Rob Bluey, the commission’s spokesman, said in a statement.
This broad vision statement sets the Heritage Foundation commission on a solid footing as Americans are anxious to get back to work.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.