By Stephanie Armour and Jon Hilsenrath
Government officials and business leaders are turning their
attention to a looming challenge in the fight against the new
coronavirus pandemic: Reopening a $22 trillion U.S. economy that
has been shut down like never before.
With some preliminary signs that infections from the virus are
slowing, the whole nation is hopeful to get back to business as
soon as possible. But a host of questions arise: Under what
conditions should people be allowed back to work and stay-at-home
orders be lifted? How will people at work be monitored for
reinfection or antibodies to prevent a resurgence of the deadly
virus? Does it all happen at once or is it staggered? Who is in
charge of the effort?
A sharp reduction in new infections is a critical first step,
but health experts say other steps will be needed to prevent
another devastating outbreak that shuts the economy down all over
again. That includes building testing and surveillance systems --
and a readiness to reintroduce some social distancing and other
mitigations on smaller scale if necessary -- to give businesses and
individuals confidence that they can return to work without risking
"It isn't like a light switch on and off," said Anthony Fauci, a
member of President Trump's task force on the pandemic, in an
interview with "The Journal," a Wall Street Journal podcast. "It's
a gradual pulling back on certain of the restrictions to try and
get society a bit back to normal."
Dr. Fauci said a first condition is a steep drop in the number
of cases. "You've got to make sure you are absolutely going in the
right direction." Then, he said, "you gradually come back. You
don't jump into it with both feet."
The federal government has yet to put in place the kind of
nationwide testing, tracing and surveillance system that public
health experts say is needed to prevent another surge in
coronavirus cases when social distancing eases. That includes
identifying people who are asymptomatic and can also spread the
coronavirus, health experts said.
Mr. Trump said Saturday that he is considering a second
coronavirus task force focused on reopening the country. The
administration's current social distancing guidelines run through
"It's the health people that are going to drive the
medical-related decisions," National Economic Council Director
Larry Kudlow said in an interview with Politico webcast on Tuesday.
"But I still believe, hopefully and maybe prayerfully, that in the
next four to eight weeks we will be able to reopen the economy, and
that the power of the virus will be substantially reduced and we
will be able to flatten the curve."
The federal government has yet to release a detailed recovery
strategy, so state and local leaders are scrambling to create their
own approaches. As a result, the recovery process could unfold in
the same patchwork fashion as the shutdown.
New York, the state hit hardest by the pandemic, is looking to
join with New Jersey and Connecticut on a unified reopening
approach. "We cannot restart life as we knew it without testing,"
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted Tuesday.
San Miguel County in Colorado, using a test from United
Biomedical, has plans to check all its residents for immunity.
Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker last week announced a
coronavirus tracking initiative that will involve 1,000 people
working at a virtual call center to trace people exposed or
infected with the virus.
GOP Texas Lieut. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday he is
forming a task force on how to reopen the economy, and GOP Maryland
Gov. Larry Hogan has created a response team to discuss measures
that must be in place for opening the state back up.
Some governors talked Tuesday with Scott Gottlieb, the former
head of the Food and Drug Administration, about ways to work
together or launch their own surveillance plans that would trace
the disease should it resurface and spread. One idea is to
galvanize congressional lawmakers to pass legislation setting a
U.S. surveillance system for coronavirus in place.
Dr. Gottlieb, who ran the FDA from 2017 to 2019, released a
report on the "roadmap to reopening" Tuesday with Mark McClellan, a
physician and economist who ran the FDA under President George W.
"I'm worried we don't have the systems in place to carefully
reopen the economy," Dr. Gottieb said in an interview. "You need to
be able to identify people who are sick and have the tools to
enforce their isolation and [tracing of people they contact]. You
have to have it at a scale we've never done before. We need
Tensions are simmering, in some states, about how and when to
reopen. Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have proposed
legislation to scale back Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's business
closure order from mid-March and create a Covid-19 emergency plan
to allow businesses to reopen.
"Our governor is being overly aggressive on this, I feel," said
Matt Stuckey, president of Stuckey Automotive, which owns three
dealerships in Altoona, Pa.
Democrats say the Republican proposal in the state would
threaten public health and risk increasing the spread of the
Many states and counties lack resources to set up their own
systems for identifying infected residents and people who may have
been exposed, a necessary step to contain the virus once social
distancing rules have been eased.
It is unknown what role the federal government will take in
running or coordinating a monitoring system once the worst effects
of the crisis have eased. It is only now starting to grapple with
some of these issues.
The administration, which was slow to respond to the early
stages of the pandemic, began collecting key testing and
epidemiological data from hospitals in late March. In the coming
weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to
deploy tests known as serology tests to find people who have
immunity to the disease, including among those who didn't have
symptoms, to better assess its presence in the population.
Dr. Fauci suggested the federal government itself won't take the
lead on testing. "It isn't up to the task force or necessarily the
federal government to flood the country with testing," Dr. Fauci
said. "It's in the hands of the private sector."
About 60% of Americans say the federal government should be
primarily responsible for the coronavirus response, almost double
the 32% who say the states should be responsible, according to a
March poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Roughly one out of every 300 people in the country is now being
tested, based on federal data, compared to about one out of every
100 people in Germany.
Testing is hampered by delays and shortages that limit who can
get tested. It is unlikely that the problems will be resolved by
the end of April, according to one person familiar with the
Some health experts said any reopening scenario is likely to
work like an accordion: Any easing on social distance protocols
would be followed by a tightening in areas where the virus
resurfaces. A vaccine is still at least 12 to 18 months away, and
even that timetable is considered optimistic.
Federal Reserve officials have cautioned that state and local
efforts to lift restrictions could be ineffective for the economy
if they haven't been paired with muscular measures to beef up
testing for infections and to provide treatments for those
Most of the hardest-hit sectors -- restaurants, hospitality,
travel -- require workers and customers "not feel like they're
taking their health at risk," said Boston Fed President Eric
Rosengren in an interview last week. "How effective are we at
getting people tested so that you feel comfortable holding the
Economic outcomes "are very, very dependent on the public-health
outcomes," he added.
Some business executives are starting to look beyond the crisis
to reopening. Movie-theater executives are talking to officials at
the CDC about when they might reopen auditoriums, said John
Fithian, chief executive of the National Association of Theatre
Owners. As of this week, the theater chains hope to open around
Memorial Day and use the month of June to re-acclimate moviegoers
to the habit of sitting in a room with dozens of strangers.
The International Air Transport Association, a trade group,
plans regional meetings with governments this month to standardize
health screening at airports.
Tractor Supply, a Nashville, Tenn.-based retailer with 1,800
stores that sell animal feed and farm supplies to mostly rural
customers, plans to split corporate employees into groups to reduce
crowding when corporate offices reopen, said CEO Hal Lawton. The
groups would be in the office on alternating days "to work in more
of a social distancing kind of way, " said Mr. Lawton.
It's not top of mind yet. "We certainly think this continues on
at least until mid-May, if not end of May, end of June, before we
are starting to do anything close to relaxing our existing
policies," he said.
--Kris Maher, Sarah Nassauer, Doug Cameron, Betsy McKay, Nick
Timiraos, Erich Schwartzel and Kate Linebaugh contributed to this
Write to Stephanie Armour at email@example.com and Jon
Hilsenrath at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 07, 2020 19:35 ET (23:35 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.