The Problem Solvers Caucus – 50 members of Congress, half Democrats and half Republicans from across America – met almost daily via video conference to debate and govern during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past few days, we have focused on a common topic in our zoom meetings: the health challenges that must be overcome to reopen the country safely and quickly and to minimize the economic hurricane on land.
The package to save health and the economy that came into force last week will surely help people and companies in the short term. But there is only so long until we can go this way. We propose the following framework to provide light in the dark before us.
►First, we need to make sure that the health crisis is dealt with safely and that America is safe enough to open up again. We must objectively demonstrate that our health system can meet the needs of our employees both in everyday life and in the event that new “hot zones” develop in the future. To achieve this, we need mass tests with quick results, at least 750,000 a week.
We need to test for antibodies called serological tests. If you even had the virus asymptotically, you are unlikely to get it again – and you may be able to work safely again.
Here’s the good news: Over the past week, the Food and Drug Administration has given permits for extensive rapid tests, including tests that can be done in minutes. In this way we can identify “hot spots”, flatten the curve and control the future progression of the virus.
We also need the mass production of personal protective equipment, not only for our healthcare workers and frontline responders who risk their lives to protect us, but also for use in grocery stores, carpooling, and other jobs that you do to have close contact.
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Fortunately, large quantities of these items – from masks to gloves – are becoming available every day, but we still lack respirators and other essentials. We need to replenish our strategic national stock to a reasonable level, increase hospital bed capacity to cope with another potential outbreak, and hire more healthcare workers – doctors, nurses, and technicians – to meet growing demand.
Healthcare workers need relief
Our healthcare workers are exhausted and self-infected. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense contact medics wherever they can and retirees volunteer, but that’s only a temporary fix. We have to mitigate our long-term personnel challenges.
Second, we need to keep our businesses in business to protect the workers’ urgent need paychecks and continue to run unemployment checks on our displaced workers.
The CARES law will certainly help, but time is not on our side, especially for small businesses. We may need a fourth emergency package, especially if the virus keeps the doors closed longer than expected or if we have to close gaps in our previous legislation. We may also need longer-term economic investments, for example an extensive infrastructure package, as we have been requesting for some time.
►Third, we need to anticipate the challenges associated with turning the lights back on. We must not allow the pandemic to destroy one of America’s greatest assets: the collective education, skills, expertise, and connectivity that have enabled our workers and businesses to thrive. Even with the CARES Act, many of our companies – small, medium, and large – will face a serious liquidity squeeze, and with the seizure of America, demand for their products and services will be lacking.
Rebuild critical supply chains
The COVID 19 outbreak revealed deep weaknesses and highlighted the urgency to support critical supply chains. Major American manufacturing operations – from medical devices and equipment – have moved overseas for several decades. Reversing this trend will not be easy. Serious policy changes will be required to reverse this.
► Finally, the current crisis is weighing on local, state, and federal governments far beyond what we originally predicted. The steep decline in economic activity has driven sales tax, income tax, and even property taxes up, while government claims are pushing up the spending side. We have to help stabilize all levels of government, otherwise the provision of vital services will be further jeopardized. Our federal government must also find a long-term way to virtually debate and vote.
In the end it is clear that we cannot have a uniform approach. It is important that we assess the virus threat region by region and consider re-opening in phases or by industry. A denser urban population will have demands that rural America will not have, and vice versa. Certain companies are more suitable for social distancing than others. Regardless of the scenario, the more we plan and execute today, the better tomorrow we will be.
We have to come together, work together and stand together – socially distant, of course – to put the country above the political party. This way you can fight this virus and the economic storm that is coming up on the horizon.
Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, and Tom Reed, R-New York, are co-chairs of Solver Caucus’ non-partisan issue.
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This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Planning to End the Coronavirus Pandemic: How to Open America Again