Harvard report details reopening of economy

The four-phase plan attempts to reopen economy by August

A report released on April 20 by Harvard University details a four-phase plan to reopen the economy. The plan is called Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience and it details all of the necessary steps to prevent the economy from closing again due to the rise and fall of cases of COVID-19. The report brings professionals from multiple different fields together to create the most comprehensive plan possible. The report details that there will need to be an increase in testing, tracing and supported isolation for the plan to work. Without this plan, the economy will have the potential to close and reopen multiple times over the next 12-18 months.

Testing, Tracing and Supported Isolation

Currently, testing in the United States is still limited. Only those who are symptomatic and those who are at high risk for potential exposure are being tested, like essential employees. Then those who were in contact with that person are isolated and quarantined but not always tested. The report proposes a different method of testing. Testing would still be done on symptomatic individuals and those who are at high risk of being exposed. However, those who were in contact with a positive individual, whether they are symptomatic or not, will have access to a test. Individuals who test negative will not have to be quarantined and will continue to be tested during the possible incubation period.

For this to happen, the U.S. will need to have the ability to conduct around five million tests per day by the beginning of June. That number then rises to around 20 million tests per day by mid-summer to ensure a safe reopening of the economy. While different agencies report slightly different data, in the U.S. around 100,000 tests are being conducted daily.

Contact tracing would also have to improve to more accurately conduct testing. John Hopkins University suggested hiring around 100,000 extra people to help with contact tracing around the United States. The goal of these contact tracers would be to trace every positive COVID-19 case to test those possibly exposed. As well as possibly using an app that could track people’s movement. After an individual would test positive, those that possibly came into contact with him/her would be alerted and testing would be recommended. Apps of this kind have been used in Taiwan and have shown to be effective. Several European countries are considering adopting a similar response.

Supported isolation would include programs to ensure those who test positive have job security and will still be paid during their quarantine. As well as receive other support such as access to health care and medical supplies.

Reopening the economy

After establishing these programs, the economy can begin to reopen in four phases. During all of these phases, large-scale testing will be very important to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible. Tests will need to be available to anyone who may need one and thorough tracing must be done to address any other potential positive cases.

The first phase will work to support current essential employees. Currently, the U.S. doesn’t have the ability to test all essential workers to ensure the virus is not being spread between employees. Because these individuals are unable to completely follow social distancing guidelines, they are at higher risk of contracting the virus. The goal of this phase is to ensure employees currently working are not spreading the virus at work. This will include identifying, isolating, treating and temporarily replacing sick workers. By increasing the number of tests available these employees will be able to be tested often. This will allow sick employees to be isolated to prevent spreading the virus. Large-scale testing should begin with the most vulnerable to the virus, like health care workers and those working in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other similar businesses. Then extending to less vulnerable workers like food service employees. During this phase, a majority of the population would still be observing social isolation. This phase would begin in May.

Phase two will work to address the shortage of essential employees. This will involve increasing the number of those in essential jobs. Individuals who are considered non-essential would be retrained to support the shortage of current essential employees. This phase would address problems in the supply chain, so people have access to the products they need like food and toiletries. This phase would also attempt to return employees in maintenance, construction, research and other essential fields that are currently not able to work. This phase would take place during the majority of June.

Phase three will work to bring back non-essential employees who are unable to do their jobs from home. This would include places like hair and nail salons and other personal services. As well as the manufacturing of non-essential products. Precautions, like wearing face masks and only serving a limited number of clients at a time, will be required. Other options like delivery and at-home services may also be expanded to serve individuals still in isolation. This phase lasts around two weeks in early July.

In the final phase, all employees will return to work. This will include all essential and non-essential employees, even those with the ability to work from home. This phase will see the reopening of restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses. Precautions like wearing masks in public, less seating in restaurants, cancelation of large events and slight physical distancing will still be prevalent until a vaccine has been developed and mass-produced. During this phase, students and staff will be able to return to school. This phase would occur in late July and early August.  

This plan is projected to cost between 50 to 500 billion dollars over two years. However, with the economy closed, the U.S. is losing around 100 to 350 billion per month. While closing and reopening the economy multiple times over the next 12-18 months is projected to cost around 500 billion to 3.5 trillion. To read the full report go to ethics.harvard.edu/covid-roadmap. Also included is a video explaining the plan in under 14 minutes.

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