An excellent piece in this morning’s New York Times presents a science-driven strategy for successfully addressing the COVID pandemic.
Here are some highlights (emphasis mine):
In just weeks we could almost stop the viral fire that has swept across this country over the past six months and continues to rage out of control. It will require sacrifice but save many thousands of lives.
We believe the choice is clear. We can continue to allow the coronavirus to spread rapidly throughout the country or we can commit to a more restrictive lockdown, state by state, for up to six weeks to crush the spread of the virus to less than one new case per 100,000 people per day.
At this level of national cases — 17 new cases per 100,000 people per day — we simply don’t have the public health tools to bring the pandemic under control. Our testing capacity is overwhelmed in many areas, resulting in delays that make contact tracing and other measures to control the virus virtually impossible.
To successfully drive down our case rate to less than one per 100,000 people per day, we should mandate sheltering in place for everyone but the truly essential workers. By that, we mean people must stay at home and leave only for essential reasons: food shopping and visits to doctors and pharmacies while wearing masks and washing hands frequently. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 39 percent of workers in the United States are in essential categories. The problem with the March-to-May lockdown was that it was not uniformly stringent across the country. For example, Minnesota deemed 78 percent of its workers essential. To be effective, the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible.
If we do this aggressively, the testing and tracing capacity we’ve built will support reopening the economy as other countries have done, allow children to go back to school and citizens to vote in person in November. All of this will lead to a stronger, faster economic recovery, moving people from unemployment to work.
This pandemic is deeply unfair. Millions of low-wage, front-line service workers have lost their jobs or been put in harm’s way, while most higher-wage, white-collar workers have been spared. But it is even more unfair than that; those of us who’ve kept our jobs are actually saving more money because we aren’t going out to restaurants or movies, or on vacations. Unlike in prior recessions, remarkably, the personal savings rate has soared to 20 percent from around 8 percent in January.
Because we are saving more, we have the resources to support those who have been laid off. Typically when the government runs deficits, it must rely on foreign investors to buy the debt because Americans aren’t generating enough savings to fund it. But we can finance the added deficits for Covid-19 relief from our own domestic savings. Those savings end up funding investment in the economy. That’s why traditional concerns about racking up too much government debt do not apply in this situation. It is much safer for a country to fund its deficits domestically than from abroad.
This exemplifies the science-driven, targeted, and short-term management strategy I’ve been calling for. It calls for strong and effective action. It calls for that action to be applied state-by-state (and, by implication, county-by-county, town-by-town, and even neighborhood-by-neighborhoos — that’s what “hyper-local” IS). It sets a specific and measurable target — less than 1 new case per 100K population per day using a 7-day rolling average. It sets a specific and measurable duration — six weeks.
It is specific about the crucial importance of providing economic relief to working-class families hardest hit by the pandemic, and clearly identifies a strategy for how to pay for it — leverage the dramatically increased savings rate of US families.,
This is the kind of science-driven policy that America desperately needs. I invite you to share it with our elected officials and demand that they follow something similar to this.
We need a national policy driven by science and data rather than prejudice and passion.