by Sean Kelly
Last week, the White House unveiled Opening Up America Again, its plan to get the country back to work which is presented in three phases, each spaced several weeks apart. It features a state-by-state “Gating Criteria” that should be satisfied before restrictions are lifted in each phase of the plan.
The entire reopening process hinges on the downward trajectory of coronavirus infections, a fall in documented cases, the ability for hospitals to treat all patients needing care, and a robust testing program.
- Phase One, for states and regions that satisfy the gating criteria, loosens the restrictions on access to public places like parks and shopping areas. It allows large venues to resume operation (e.g., restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) but only if strict physical distancing protocols remain in place.
- Phase Two, for states and regions with no evidence of an infection upsurge, allows the reopening of schools, daycares and camps with appropriate distancing measures. In addition, large venues can operate with only moderate distancing protocols. Elective surgeries and non-essential travel can also resume.
- Phase Three, permits the return of public interactions. Employers can resume unrestricted staffing. While vulnerable individuals should still practice physical distancing, visits to hospitals and senior care facilities can also resume. Large venues can operate with limit distancing restrictions. Gyms can also re-open and bars can operate with standing room occupancy where applicable.
The plan has been criticized by some state governors as too vague and panned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not mandating mass testing and tracing. A non-partisan group of 50 House members that call themselves, “The Problem Solvers” also put forth guidelines to re-start the economy called the “Reopening and Recovery ‘Back-to-Work’ Checklist” which emphasizes comprehensive testing and a science-based approach to safely bring the economy back online. It has been offered as a framework for future rounds of economic relief.
These attempts to restart American industry come amid soaring unemployment numbers and mounting “back to work” protests that are gaining momentum across the country. Rallies and demonstrations have erupted in Michigan, Texas, Utah, Maryland, Florida, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, Montana and even in New Jersey and California. Signs reading, “Stop the Shutdown,” “The Cure Has Become the Disease,” “Stop Killing the Economy,” “Let us Work,” and “Give me Liberty or Give me Covid-19!” capture the frustration and anger of Americans worried about their freedom and their livelihood.
Over the past, three weeks U.S. economic activity has come to a complete standstill and what protestors fear most is that the longer businesses remain closed and entire American cities shelter at home, the deeper and darker the economic chasm. The massive layoffs, cratering GDP, and crumbling housing numbers are reminiscent of the financial crisis of a decade ago – except far more severe. The speed and scope of the current financial collapse has been unlike anything experienced in modern times.
While some have accused the protestors of defying science and endangering the public good, their economic reality is fairly straightforward– they can’t pay their bills if they don’t leave the house. Civil liberties, religious freedom and government overreach are undoubtedly part of the dialogue along with something much more fundamental, the “pursuit of happiness” guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and nearly impossible to enact without a job and a paycheck.
Experts predict that an economic recovery could take many months and depending on the development of effective therapies, treatments and/or vaccines to control the spread of the virus, it may be longer than that. Even as the pandemic fades no one knows how quickly consumers will return to restaurants, theaters and ballgames – and if they’ll ever come back in the same numbers.
As the layoffs, business closures and market losses mount, the hit to retirement and savings accounts could reach catastrophic levels. For those taking to the streets, the recovery will start when they finally return to work. For those in the shadow of retirement, it will start when they finally decide to diversify their portfolio and protect their wealth.