Reopening the Economy: Here's The Plan

Written by Sandy Williams

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll on American lives and the economy. The first case of the disease in the U.S. was reported 88 days ago on Jan. 22. As of April 21, there have been 784,326 reported infections and 42,094 deaths.

The toll on the U.S. economy has been devastating. Stay-at-home orders and shuttering of non-essential businesses has elevated the number of Americans filing for unemployment. Last week the government reported that initial jobless claims had soared to 22 million since March 14. Fitch Ratings estimates the unemployment rate could rise to near 15 percent in April, setting a new post-World War II record.

In March, retail sales fell a record 8.7 percent, industrial production 5.4 percent and manufacturing 6.3 percent. New York regional manufacturing declined to negative 78.2 percent. Economists at JP Morgan are forecasting a 40 percent decline in GDP for the second quarter of 2020.

“The economy is clearly in ruins here,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, told CNBC. “Nobody is buying cars, down 25.6 percent, nobody is buying furniture, down 26.8 percent, and eating and drinking places were down 26.5 percent.”

Small businesses are unsure if they can ever recover, even with government assistance. Retailers and automakers hope for a surge in consumer buying once state restrictions are lifted, but many question how long it will take for Americans to feel comfortable resuming normal activities when the potential for infection remains.

The Plan

The Trump administration, eager to get the economy back on track, has rolled out guidelines for reopening business and activities. The Center for Disease Control has recommended a phased return that includes gating criteria that must be satisfied before further actions are taken.

States must show a 14-day downward trajectory of new flu-like illnesses and COVID-like infections. Documented cases of COVID-19 and positive tests must remain on a downward track for 14 days. Hospitals must be able to treat all patients without crisis care and have robust testing in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including antibody testing. Efficient testing and contact tracing must be set up, health and safety protocols established and conditions monitored for further outbreaks.

States are also required to be able to “quickly and independently” supply sufficient personal protective equipment and necessary medical equipment should there be a surge in infections.

Phase One

During Phase One of reopening the economy, social distancing, masks, and teleworking should be encouraged. Groups of more than 10 individuals should be avoided when practical and non-essential travel minimized. Employees should return to work in phases; vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter-in-place.

Schools and youth activities should remain closed for the rest of the school year. Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited.

Large venue activities, such as sit-down dining, theaters, sports and worship can operate under strict physical distancing protocols. Gyms can reopen with precautions, but bars should remain closed.

Elective surgeries can resume as appropriate.

Phase Two

If there is no evidence of a rebound in infections for states or regions, and gating criteria can again be satisfied, the restrictions on activities will be loosened.

Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter-in-place. Social distancing should continue, but groups of 50 or more people are allowed. Non-essential travel can resume.

Schools and youth activities can reopen, but still no visits to senior care facilities and hospitals. Large venues can reopen with moderate physical distancing observed. Americans can patronize their favorite bars as long as the establishment reduces standing-room occupancy where applicable and appropriate.

Phase Three

States and regions with no infection rebound, and that can satisfy gating criteria for a third time, may resume unrestricted staffing of worksites.

Vulnerable individuals may resume public interactions with caution. Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals may resume.

All individuals should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments. Large venues may operate under limited physical distancing protocols. Gyms may remain open if they follow standard sanitation protocols. Bars can operate with increased standing room occupancy.


After declaring absolute authority, President Trump stepped back and put the responsibility (and potential blame) for reopening the economy in the hands of the state governors. Some states have already begun easing restrictions, while others are still seeing rising infection rates and have extended closings and shelter-in-place orders.

The quick return to normalcy by states such as Georgia have caused concern that infection rates will soar. Although reopening by state is supposed to remove political concerns, Republican states have been quick to support President Trump’s urging to reopen the economy. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, announced on Monday that most businesses in the state can begin reopening next week, including hair salons, bowling alleys and movie theaters. As of Monday, the Georgia infection rate had declined for six days, although the state is notably low in its per-capita testing rate.

Tennessee’s safer-at-home order expires April 30 and Republican Gov. Bill Lee will open 89 of the 95 state counties. The remaining counties, with major metropolitan areas, have their own public health districts that will reopen “as soon and safely as possible.”

In general, rural areas appear to be less severely affected by the virus, but loosening travel restrictions could push the infection rates higher.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said reopening the economy is a tricky business. “I think it’s going to have to be something that isn’t one size fits all,” Fauci told CNN. At the end of April, “we can look around and say, ‘Okay, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on?’ If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down.”

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