In Europe, a group of researchers spread over nine countries modeled multiple scenarios for how to confront a future surge. Those ranged from another round of draconian lockdowns (and many European countries enforced the shelter-in-place order much more stringently than anywhere in the United States) to what could best be called a “Sweden strategy” of letting future waves run their course with limited government intervention. The most effective strategy, according to their models, would be to alternate 50-day strict lockdowns followed by 30 days of opening, followed by more lockdowns as need be. As one of the researchers noted, that strategy would at least allow the population “to breathe” periodically and reduce the risk of social breakdown.
That’s not a fully reopened economy, but it creates a metabolism, and some certainty about what happens next. The problem with the haphazard American approach in March (and with most policies even now) was that there was no road map, no timetable, no metrics that were clear and understood, and no cohesive safety net to assure people that all would be temporary. Washington and the states made their own rules; Congress scrambled to repair the damage, which is hard when you have no idea how much damage you’re contending with. The whole thing was a blunt-force instrument, with no special protections or rules for vulnerable populations, and no grappling with the basic inequalities at play: Even with a shutdown, millions of people must keep working; overwhelmingly, people of color who lack economic safety nets and good health care and, as the mass protests against police violence expose, don’t feel safe even in the absence of a deadly disease.
Another idea to avoid hitting the kill switch again has been developed by an Israeli group at the Weizmann Institute in Tel Aviv: People would work in two-week cycles of four-day workweeks, followed by 10 days of voluntary quarantine. Schools would follow a similar pattern.