Is there a plan for how to reopen all the businesses?

While I have a feeling it’s too soon to get our hopes up yet, there are reports trickling out indicating that both the death rate and the rate of new infections are flattening and possibly even decreasing in New York City. They’re not out of the woods yet to be sure, but the end of this nightmare may soon be visible on the horizon. And the Big Apple was (still is?) the biggest hotspot in the country with some of the highest population density imaginable. If they can pull out of this nosedive, anyplace should be able to, perhaps even sooner than predicted.

With that in mind, Karol Markowicz at the New York Post has a very important question for not just the Mayor, the Governor, and President Trump, but for all of us. Is there a plan for how we will start reopening businesses and allowing people to return to work when the coast is at least mostly clear? As she notes up front, this is still something of a taboo discussion. If you ask about restarting the economy you are shamed and accused of caring more about the stock market than people dying out there. But the fact is, we need a plan for how we slowly move back into gear and we need to be working on it now, not when the last dose of an eventual vaccine is administered. Markowicz is talking about New York City in particular, but this is a question that applies to the entire nation.

I’m no COVID-truther who thinks this is no big deal — it’s a very big deal. But looking ahead, figuring out a way to get people back to work has to be permitted. In fact, it’s essential.

It’s hard not to notice that many of the people shrieking and shaming are still employed. What about all the people who don’t have any money coming in for their families? We need to figure out the path back for them.

Businesses can’t open tomorrow or next week. But how do we get our city working again?

Must it be all or nothing? Can some businesses take proper precautions and reopen sooner than others?

It seems obvious that we can’t afford to pick an arbitrary date and just “flip a switch,” saying that everyone in every state can get back on the job. There are plenty of reasons for that. First of all, not every region will be recovering at the same time. Some places that were infected early will run their course before others even begin seeing a measurable uptick in positive tests. If you wait until there are no more cases anywhere, some areas will have been sitting on their hands with no active cases for months, needlessly damaging the economy even further.

In the areas that seem to be under control, perhaps some businesses can apply to reopen early. Markowicz offers several good examples, such as construction operations with only a few people and plenty of room to stay six feet apart. Or gyms where the exercise equipment is that far apart and stringent sanitation measures are in place. Other examples must abound. And if they open up without a new spike in cases, more people will be comfortable with the idea of getting everything going again.

Also, it’s likely that not every person should be going back to work at once. Going from zero to Mach 1 in a single day is going to freak people out and probably make second waves of infections more likely. The first to be allowed back out should probably be those who survived the disease and now have immunity. That’s going to require a lot more tests to be distributed. After that, perhaps those who are older and/or have compromised immune systems can be kept on lockdown for a while longer, even as younger, healthier people are allowed to return to work. Doing this would also allow us to focus any future stimulus relief or enhanced unemployment benefits to go only to those who need it the most.

Each city and state should probably come up with their own plan. But having some federal guidelines drawn up by whatever experts study such matters to use as a starting point should be a priority also. And as I said above, the time to be thinking about this and drafting such plans for public review and comment is now, not later.