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Politics & Policy

Another Plan to Reopen

Louisiana National Guardsmen with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the 62nd Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team gather information from first responders and medical personnel at a COVID-19 coronavirus mobile testing site at the Alario Center in Westwego, La., March 21, 2020. (Staff Sergeant Garrett L. Dipuma/US Army National Guard)

This one comes from Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, and it’s co-authored by a number of big names across the political spectrum — including Julius Krein of the Trumpist journal American Affairs, the libertarian economist Alex Tabarrok, and Anne-Marie Slaughter of the center-left New America Foundation.

Basically, the idea is to reopen the economy piece by piece as we massively scale up our ability to control the virus by other means, especially testing workers, tracing the contacts of any who turn out to be sick, and isolating the infected. Or, as they put it:

Between now and August, we should phase in economic mobilization in sync with growth in our capacity to provide speedy, sustainable testing, tracing and warning, and supported isolation and quarantine programs for mobilized sectors of the workforce, or TTSI. We do not propose a modest level of TTSI intended to supplement collective quarantine as a tool of disease control. Rather we recommend a level of TTSI ambitious enough to replace collective quarantine as a tool of disease control. TTSI should replace stay-at-home.

Great. How do we get enough tests to pull that off, and please can we get it done long before August? Well,

achieving a testing program at this scale requires supply-chain management and production capacity to deliver 5 to 20 millions of tests per day; distribution capacity to get these millions of tests to last-mile delivery personnel at the local level; and test administration personnel — a combination of local health care workers and service corps members, reinforced by state and national service corps (including entities like the Medical Reserves, U.S. Public Health Service Corps, and National Guard and, during the period of the emergency, AmeriCorps and Service Year Alliance). These service corps would need to be expanded. . . .

There are two possible forward pathways to increase the number of tests and the speed of analysis. We can seek to scale-up existing test production, distribution, sample collection, and analysis methods, or we can simplify the methodologies through innovation and build even greater scale through process simplification. Probably we need both. We need to maximize what we can already do while innovating to do much more. . . .

Implementation of such a complex supply chain at this speed requires tight coordination most naturally facilitated by a Pandemic Testing Board (PTB), akin to the War Production Board that the United States created in World War II.

Let’s get on it, America.


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