Individuals, the states, and the private sector must aggressively step up our effort to kill the coronavirus. Washing hands kills the virus. Social distancing stops it from spreading. Staying home is a good idea for many. Individuals should be asked to volunteer to help confront the pandemic. Governors should continue to take more aggressive actions. Private firms should take initiative.
But it is Congress that must get America on a wartime footing and oversee a response that saves lives and the economy. People can’t stay home forever. Locking down is a necessary defensive response. We need to go on the offense. The good news is that there are many lessons from current and past responses to this virus and similar epidemics that we should draw upon.
We are in a situation of far-higher uncertainty for the simple reason that we haven’t actually faced anything similar in living memory. We are already in a radically different moment than the one a few weeks ago when many East Asian nations responded effectively to slow the spread of the virus.
Congress needs to make decisions in a context of radical uncertainty. One key to doing so is to seek “no regrets” actions, defined as actions that have high upside potential in various future situations with relatively low downside potential. Another key is adopting the right vision and mentality.
Kill, Don’t Accommodate, the Virus
Our vision should be to kill the virus, improve treatment of the sick, and ramp up testing so we can return to normalcy. The virus is our common enemy, and an aggressive attitude is critical.
East Asian nations such as South Korea were more aggressive and even radical on testing, transparency, monitoring, and self-isolation. Deaths have peaked and declined. Over 20 times more people are dead in Italy than South Korea, even though South Korea has 85 percent of Italy’s population.
South Koreans have been aggressive while maintaining democracy and individual freedom. Indeed, strong early action made it easier to preserve civil liberties by returning to normal more quickly.
While the spread of Covid-19 will continue in South Korea, and the death toll may once again rise precipitously, infections and deaths are unlikely to reach the levels seen in Italy — and that we risk seeing in the U.S. Even if infection rates rise, their growth will be more gradual and pose less risk of overwhelming South Korea’s health care system.
We can learn specific things from South Korea, but the most important thing we can do is embrace its “kill the virus” attitude.
Stimulate the People
The federal government should send every American over 18 years old a check for $1,000 a month for the next 12 months. This will be crucial to offset inevitable layoffs.
Past one-time stimuli, including 2007, had limited usefulness. What all Americans, including businesses and investors, need now is greater certainty about the future. This is a cheap way to secure such certainty.
In 12 months, Congress should revisit and decide whether to reauthorize the program. It would be best for Congress to finance the stimulus with a small tax on all internet transactions, but it should not let this mechanism get in the way of passing the legislation. Nor should this proposal be necessarily viewed as an alternative to expanded paid leave and unemployment insurance.
Get Manufacturing of Critical Goods on a Wartime Schedule
President Trump acknowledged the need for this and asked for the states’ help. We need Congress to pass legislation that requires automakers, jet plane makers, and other leading American manufacturers to convert their factories to make the ventilators, masks, gloves, beds, and other items health care workers and others on the front line of the crisis need. The British government has already done this. While there has been talk of it in the U.S., Congress should authorize an arrangement similar to the one adopted in World War II when car companies converted their factories for bomber and jet plane construction. Every patriotic manufacturing CEO in America will say yes.
Radically Increase Testing, Tracing, and Transparency
State governments and the testing industry are offering conflicting numbers, but it appears millions of tests should be possible by early April. Our goal should be mass testing as soon as possible.
The oft-repeated claim that “40 to 70 percent” of the public will get the virus is unproven and contradicted by East Asian government actions. The World Health Organization says the virus can be contained, although imperfectly. Widespread testing is key to restricting and slowing the spread of the disease and allowing people to return to normal life. South Korea shows that mass use of testing is a critical element to retaining freedom while protecting public health. Aggressiveness saves lives; fatalism is deadly.
Expanded Emergency ‘Right-to-Try’ Law
America is the most innovative nation in the world. Innovative entrepreneurs are one of the main sources of our greatness. It must be unleashed. Abuse is possible, and there have been ugly periods in our past, but Americans can find the balance.
Adults or their next of kin must always give their consent to medical experimentation. Radical transparency is crucial in monitoring such experiments. Biomedical tech entrepreneur Balaji S. Srinivasan and others have done crucial policy thinking on how to balance the need for urgency and freedom with the need for oversight and human rights.
FEMA and the National Guard Provide Emergency Hospitals, Staff, Beds
New York and Washington state are already experiencing shortages of beds and other hospital equipment, and we are at the beginning of the crisis.
Temporary Universal Health Insurance for Covid-19-Related Care
It would be deadly for all if people hesitated to get testing or treatment because of a lack of health insurance. Congress should cover all medical treatment of Covid-19 for uninsured people immediately.
Congress Must Act
Congress must strike a balance between providing the nation and the world with a long-term vision for killing the virus and an understanding that some legislation should and will by necessity be temporary.
Much is at stake. The crisis shows that fatalism and inaction are deadly, while aggressiveness and innovation save lives. We must build on the strengths that make America great. We must come together and set politics and partisanship aside and consider policies that are in the national interest.
Now let’s go kill the virus.