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National Coronavirus Recovery Commission Announces Five-Phase Plan To Reopen America

National Coronavirus Recovery
The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission convened by the conservative leaders of the Heritage Foundation has announced the adoption of a five-phase plan to reopen America and combat the novel coronavirus. The phases and accompanying recommendations detail the “all of society” approach that this requires, recognizing that decisions to reopen the American economy must proceed expeditiously and that our recovery over the months to come cannot follow a national or top-down approach. Success requires coordination among the federal government, state and local governments, the private sector, and civil society.

The plan is formulated to save both our lives and our livelihoods. It is not about choosing between protecting lives or the economy, but about achieving the prudent balance needed to protect both.

In its Interim Report, the Commission includes recommendations for the first four phases of the plan to reopen America, with recommendations organized according to the entity that is best positioned to execute them. This proposal should be viewed in its entirety, with phases informing and building upon each other. Each phase addresses specific questions and issues, with Phase One and Phase Two addressing the most immediate concerns in the critical time to suppress the virus and safely reopen American society and economic activity by June. Phase Three and Phase Four build on that ground to continue progress in science and to engage strategically with the rest of the world in trade and travel.

All of these steps will build to the final Phase Five— reducing the risk of future pandemics—which will be included in the Final Report. The steady increase in global trade and travel has greatly improved life, but it also increases the potential for future pandemic outbreaks, each with its own set of unknowns and challenges. However, there are things that all of us—all levels of government, the private sector, civil society, and citizens—can apply now to prepare ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead.

The four Phases addressed in this Interim Report are as follows:

Phase 1

Return to a more normal level of business activity at the regional level based on scientific data. This would be done only after stabilizing the health care system; establishing enhanced testing, reporting, and contact tracing; and continuing to follow CDC mitigation guidelines. At the same time, additional policies should be pursued to help workers, businesses, and medical professionals mitigate the economic consequences of the epidemic.

Phase 2

Slow the spread of the coronavirus while expanding testing, reporting, and contact tracing. Follow CDC guidance on social distancing and other mitigation efforts until new cases begin to decline for at least 14 days. Increase diagnostic testing for COVID-19 and immunity. Also, resources should be made available to regional public health departments to undertake and expand testing, reporting, and contact tracing of those who may be in contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Returning to work and slowing the spread of the virus are necessarily intermingled challenges. A sound public health strategy not only helps to reduce illness and mortality associated with the disease, but also helps to mitigate the long-term economic effects. Similarly, many companies and manufacturers have demonstrated strategies that make it possible to continue operating safely and build resiliency. Business leaders are essential in the work to proactively establish safe practices and  models for how we can save both lives and livelihoods.

Work and workplaces are central to American life not just for the sake of the economy, but also for families, communities, and individual well-being. Extreme shutdowns and social distancing measures are creating high unemployment and putting significant pressure on communities and on individuals. Health policy should focus on constraining the spread of the infection, treating and quarantining the sick, and protecting those who are most vulnerable—not on shutting down American life. Economic policy should focus on durable policy solutions and regulatory relief where government has become a barrier to solutions. Americans need paychecks more than they need stimulus checks.

Seventy-two recommendations cover nearly every sector of the economy and society, with recommendations addressing coordination among local, state, and federal governments; testing and contact tracing; regulatory burdens on health care and economic activity; federal financial aid and tax relief; business capital formation; liability protections; emergency education reforms; minority community support; and empowering NGOs, faith-based communities, and civil society.

Phase 3

Continue to build the science. Increase the availability and rapidity of new diagnostic tests while supporting the acceleration and introduction of proven therapeutics and vaccines.

There is much we yet do not know about the nature of the virus, its transmissibility, its effects on the body, and its lethality. Important epidemiological questions remain, and work is ongoing to develop faster, more accurate testing to improve and expand our knowledge. The public and private sectors, academia, and international partnerships are needed to advance knowledge and drive solutions. Critical policy reform is also necessary to empower the private sector and reduce regulatory barriers that frustrate innovation and access to health care.

Forty-nine recommendations address hospital capacity; regulatory streamlining of scientific research, manufacturing, and deployment of vaccines, therapeutics, and disinfectants; access to nonessential medical care; information communication; mental health; and the improvement of epidemiological understanding.

Phase 4

Establish U.S. leadership in economic recovery. Implement risk-informed measures to reestablish international travel while limiting the threat of reinfection. Partner with key strategic allies, including Western Europe and the Indo–Pacific, to empower economic freedom and partnerships in free markets among free people.

In all of history, there has been no better model than that of free markets in lifting people out of poverty and into better, healthier standards of living. America must leverage its natural strengths of freedom and free enterprise to reinvigorate economic activity at home and abroad. The U.S. should intentionally be proactive in promoting “free trade” internationally. Protectionist barriers should be reduced, with the caveats that trade should be economically fair over time, should protect intellectual property, and should be inherently safe.  Strategic considerations should be weighed regarding critical items impacting the health and safety of the United States.

Countless American jobs involved the exchange of materials, skills, and talents of people from among allies and trading partners around the world—and vice versa. Reopening international supply lines and removing barriers to free trade will be critical to improving access to innovative life-saving technology and products to fight the virus, rebuild supply chains, and leverage collaboration that can help reinvigorate businesses from the ground up.

Fifty-five recommendations cover international travel; immigration; free trade agreements; the World Health Organization; supply chain diversification; international education programs; and regional approaches for North America, transatlantic partnerships, and China.

Phase 5

Reducing the risk of future pandemics—will be included in the Final Report.

With over 179 recommendations, several themes emerge throughout this Interim Report:

The American system of federalism provides the appropriate governing structure for responding to a crisis with as many different facets and variable effects as we are seeing with COVID-19. State governments necessarily have led and will continue to lead response and recovery. America is strengthened by these laboratories of democracy, critically aided by the reliable information, regulatory relief, coordination, funding, and equipment supplied by Congress and the executive branch.

Businesses, civic and community organizations, and religious institutions are invaluable in helping get people back to work, helping to put lives back on track, and helping communities to stay vigilant and prevent another outbreak. The private sector and civil society already have played and will continue to play an important role. Civil society is perhaps the segment of America that has shown most brightly in this crisis as everyday Americans have rallied in creative ways to help each other.

Regulatory reform has been essential to crisis response and will be indispensable to recovery. Temporary waivers and emergency exceptions to certain regulations, fees, licenses, and other requirements have opened up critical resources and enabled people to solve problems expeditiously across the economy, civil society, and public health sectors. Removing such barriers is critical now, and transitioning them to durable policy reform will be foundational to sustaining recovery and empowering Americans to make confident decisions about the future.

The United States will be a linchpin for international recovery and must demonstrate vigorous, strategic, and compassionate leadership in this crisis that has affected the entire world. One of the most powerful tools America has to advance recovery at home and abroad is free enterprise. America must use the natural strengths of freedom and bottom-up ingenuity to sustain recovery.

Ultimately, the Commission’s five-phase plan is about far bigger questions and deeper reasons to be confident about the future, whatever it holds. This plan is about fortifying the pillars of federalism that have made this country great for centuries. It is about empowering individuals, families, communities, and businesses—the bedrock of America—to make their own informed decisions confidently as they navigate the ground of their freedoms and responsibilities. This moment in our country’s history is critical for reminding and teaching Americans about some of the fundamental truths of our founding, our freedom, and limited representative government as accountable to the people. These principles have guided our nation through weighty trials in the past and can carry America into the future.

From our perspective, here is one of the key points of the report and plan:

A careful study of previous epidemics suggests that when outbreaks of deadly diseases occur, places that have practiced good public health strategies have been able to recover more quickly. Therefore, a sound public health strategy not only helps to reduce illness and mortality associated with the disease, but also helps to mitigate the long-term economic effects. However, the current tactics aimed at containing COVID-19 have come at real cost.

For instance, the stay-at-home orders carry negative effects both for the health care system and for the broader economy. Many more Americans are not receiving the basic health care, including cancer care, that they would receive under normal conditions because they have been told not to leave their homes or have been forced to delay regular interactions with their primary-care doctors, dentists, and other health professionals. Meanwhile, these same tactics have reduced economic output by as much as 40 percent based on some calculations.

Furthermore, social distancing is a public health tactic, not a comprehensive strategy to combat the virus. While it flattens the epidemiological curve, it also elongates it. It does not change the area under the curve absent some exogenous development—a cure, a vaccine, developed immunity, or a seasonality that causes the pandemic’s progress to stall during the summer before mounting a potential second wave in the fall. Social distancing also does nothing about the nation’s immediate economic challenges. An effective strategy must save both lives and livelihoods. The strategy to date ensured America’s healthcare system was not overrun; it now must be modified.

There have been significant reductions in economic activity since March. This is true even in states that have not imposed restrictions on business operations or mandated stay-at-home orders. By the end of March, for instance, hours worked had fallen by almost 55 percent in states that have not imposed stay-at-home orders; in states with restrictions, they had fallen by approximately 70 percent. These facts suggest that businesses and consumers are responding to the virus absent government action. They also suggest that business activity may not return immediately even if state and local governments begin to lift their restrictions once it appears that the novel coronavirus has been suppressed or that health resources will not be overwhelmed.

Since the middle of March, more than 30 million people have successfully filed for unemployment insurance. Certain sectors of the economy have been completely shut down, and more than half of all businesses are closed. Lockdown orders lasting eight weeks could cost $2 trillion in lost output. Importantly, much of this economic activity is essential to communities in many more ways than even the most complicated calculations of economic costs and benefits can capture. If lockdown policies are continued much longer, a great depression could well ensue. Besides causing immense economic suffering, the adverse social and public health effects of such a depression would be profound and would last for many years. Moreover, a depression would make it difficult for the United States to address future economic, social, and foreign policy challenges.

The damage that has been done so far will be difficult to reverse, and the consequences could get much worse very soon. Businesses all across America are experiencing significant liquidity problems because of the mandatory closures. They have rent, mortgages, or utility bills to pay while also needing to take care of their employees. Many of these businesses are seasonal, and the summer months drive their revenue for the entire year. We are approaching a tipping point at which many of these entrepreneurs may decide that it is better to close their businesses for an extended period of time, file for bankruptcy, and start all over again when the health crisis has subsided entirely. Furthermore, every day that passes increases the amount of time that it will take to get the economy up and running again.

It is very possible that the tipping point for such an event could arrive in June. Therefore, what we do in the next 30 days could decide whether the country has to contend with an economic depression regardless of whether COVID-19 is suppressed in the next several months or the next year. Furthermore, how we build on those steps will not just be critical in restarting the American economy, but could also help to increase its soundness coming out of this crisis. The steps that we outline in this report are essential for businesses, civil society, state and local governments, and the federal government to take both to defeat the virus and to avoid economic catastrophe. This is a plan to save both our lives and our livelihoods. It is not about choosing between protecting lives and the economy but about achieving the prudent balance needed to protect both.

This includes a reopening of the economy without undue delay. Work and workplaces are an important part of American life, not just for the sake of the economy but also to the well-being of individuals and families. This makes many businesses essential to local communities.

And further:

This proposal should be viewed in its entirety because steps three and four build on steps one and two. In essence, steps three and four outline what needs to be done to continue making progress once we are out of this critical 30-day window to suppress the virus and begin restarting the economy. All of these steps also build to our final step: reducing the future risk of pandemics so that we do not find ourselves in the same position once the current coronavirus is defeated.

Restarting economic activities and combating the novel coronavirus requires an “all of society” approach—but one that is not uniform across the entire country or even entire regions or states. To facilitate this process, our recommendations are organized by the entity that is in the best position to execute them. Furthermore, the decision to reopen the American economy must proceed expeditiously and involve most communities in the country. All public health tactics, including stay-at-home orders, should be targeted, temporary, and smartly applied.

In addition, we must use our natural strengths of freedom to recover from the crisis. The solutions will not come from the top down but from the bottom up. Success will require leadership from the business community and civil society, as well as significant coordination with governments at all levels. It will also require personal responsibility, as all of us will have to grapple with the real risks associated with restarting the economy. Furthermore, the federal government by itself does not have the capability or the resources to support economic activity and then expect a full recovery. We will recover by allowing individuals and businesses to drive that process.

These recommendations will help to restart economic activity while suppressing the novel coronavirus to give the American people the confidence to begin returning to normal. Finally, it is critical that once the economy reopens, it remains open so that Americans’ lives and livelihoods do not continue to be disrupted. Public health strategies and policy must support, not conflict with, this goal.

We urge CHQ readers and friends to download the report, read it and share it with the elected officials and opinion leaders of your community.

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