Looking ahead, there will come a time when it makes sense to resume additional economic endeavors. But that should not mean that everything goes back to the way it was, status quo ante. And that is where the policy planning is most lacking right now.

Rather than debating “lock it down” vs. “let it open,” we need to discuss what the preconditions are for a restoration of activities — more widespread testing, adequate hospital beds for the sick and adequate gear for health-care workers — and what a gradual restoration of activity will look like when the time comes. Our economy is not an on/off switch, it is a dial: the dial is at low now (but not zero); when we dial it back up, it should not immediately go back to the highest setting.

For example, when it is time to reopen production facilities, we might need to do so with fewer workers per shift, spread farther apart — even if it means less than peak output. Reopened offices might change from the currently-popular model of workers close together. We could ultimately allow more stores to open — but with limited capacity and hours, and new practices to lessen social contact. Restoration for restaurants will be slower still — and even then, with fewer customers, more spread out. When sports and cultural events first resume, they might do so without live audiences, to avoid large gatherings.