Time is of the essence: America must build its own solutions for the Coronavirus

The potential scope of the coronavirus pandemic is staggering. We may see over a million cases in the United States within a month, with tremendous negative impacts on hospitals and the availability of life-saving medical devices and essential supplies, not to mention the economy.

More and more, the impact of the coronavirus seems likely to mirror the world wars of the early 20th century.

Much has been written elsewhere about the deficient response of our federal government: slow to take action, widely insufficient testing, no solutions for supply-chain shortages of respirators and ventilators. To be sure, local governments seem to be taking more decisive steps (like the recent tough decision by Austin to cancel SXSW), and some major corporations are stepping up in this time of crisis (like the Darden Restaurants decision to provide paid sick leave to 170,000 personnel).

But this is a crisis that requires action on every front, especially from the federal government.

We need a massive public health campaign to encourage hand-washing, social distancing, and special care for older Americans.

We need an immediate, comprehensive testing regime, along the lines of South Korea, which seems to have slowed the spread of the virus by testing 65,000 people within the first week of its first case, and is now testing 15,000 people per day.

We need economic support for individuals and small businesses that will suffer as our economy contracts. One solid idea on this front comes from Jesse Rothstein and Jared Bernstein: “Employers would continue to pay workers who are prevented from working by the virus, through direct deposits or paychecks in the mail. They would report this to their state [Unemployment Insurance] system, which would reimburse them through tax credits or direct payments and would in turn be reimbursed by the federal government.”

We need policy solutions, like universal paid sick leave, universal healthcare, and strong anti-trust policy to build true resiliency as a society.

And we need some courage to address the elephant in the room: that the United States does not build most of the products we consume, and this lack of self-sustainability is a huge threat at this moment.

A baseline concern that hurts us every day: we do not have sufficient testing kits. And of major concern in the near future: we face an incredible gap in access to life-saving devices like ventilators. Experts believe we will need a million or more of these devices as hospitalizations become widespread. We have less than 50,000 available today.

Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when the time came to enter World War II and fight fascism abroad, we took decisive action. FDR convened the captains of industry and innovation to address the need for war materials. The U.S. used the Treasury to guide investment: to build facilities where U.S. manufacturers could immediately begin the construction of tanks, jets, ships, and more.

We need a similar, immediate, and massive show of leadership from the Executive Branch today. We also need the Legislative Branch to step up as a co-equal branch of government with the power of the purse. And once we tackle this public health crisis, let’s use the same approach toward the climate crisis.

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