Have you bought your washable masks and gloves yet? If not, hurry up, because they will be the height of fashion when business resumes.
President Donald Trump is correct when he says we need to restart the U.S. economy, and all of us need to start figuring out how work will be different until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.
We should definitely not sacrifice grandma so that teens can return to the mall. But the infection and death rates will soon peak, and once they do, we must gradually resume commerce.
Rule number one: Scientists and health professionals lead this conversation, not antsy CEOs.
Pandemics follow a predictable arc, and epidemiologists are rightfully emphasizing protection for the vulnerable. Most communities, though, will see cases peak over the next two months, and subsequent waves will not be as bad, experts say.
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When doctors announce they have enough resources to treat the sick, we can consider restarting businesses. Very, very carefully.
We’ll need to test 750,000 people a week across the population to be confident, but we can move forward once we understand the virus’s patterns, according to a study by the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
If your employees can work from home, let them. Social distancing will remain critical until we have a vaccine. Teleconferencing is your ally in controlling health care costs.
For the rest, we can look to Sweden and the Netherlands. Both nations have shut down activities that require physical contact, but they’ve kept open low-contact, low-density activities such as retail. Both governments are betting residents will act responsibly.
We should consider a similar approach and require everyone to wear masks and gloves in public. The mounting death toll should be sufficient motivation for most people to follow the rules.
Public spaces will likely need to screen people for fevers and poor health practices. Asian countries have shown success demanding conformity. No mask, no service.
Our vigilance can only abate when the virus does. We will also have to become inured to the ongoing deaths, just as we have with influenza and car accidents.
Rule number two: Workers come first, consumers second, profits third.
No business is successful without skilled and confident workers. Managers must prepare site-specific plans that includes social distancing, surface decontamination and, most importantly, ways to ease employees’ anxieties.
After weeks of government warnings, we will need time to feel comfortable with strangers again. Not to mention, so many of us have different ideas about what’s safe and what’s not. Managers will need enormous patience.
Consumers will be harder to reassure. They will want tangible proof a business is prioritizing healthy practices. Masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer and social distancing will instill confidence. Business as usual will not.
People at the highest risk of mortality will have to stay home after the rest of us return to work, and employers will need to accommodate them. Do the right things, and profits will follow.
Rule number three: Governments are not done spending.
The disaster relief package known as the CARES Act helped Americans and businesses cope with the sudden shutdown of the economy. But $2.2 trillion will only keep us afloat through the lockdowns; it is not enough to restart the economy with so many businesses going bankrupt.
Unemployment is already in the mid-teens,former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen estimates, more than three times what it was before the pandemic. Shuttered businesses are losing trillions of dollars in revenue while still under pressure to pay rents, wages and supply contracts.
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No economist believes we will have a V-shaped recovery from the Coronavirus Recession, so give up the dream that business activity and jobs will bounce back as quickly as they fell. The economy will continue to shrink through the end of September, and the soonest we will recover fully is 2021, most analysts agree. Remember, it took five years to recover from the 2008 recession.
The federal government will need to pump trillions more into the economy through additional small business loans, major corporate bailouts, increased unemployment benefits, and expanded health coverage.
When the pandemic begins to turn, the feds will need to spend trillions on projects that put people back to work. America needs trillions in infrastructure.
State and local governments will need to study tax relief, because many businesses and residents will not have the money for property taxes. But cutting government jobs and services in a recession is not an option either. State and local governments, required by law to stay within balanced budgets, will need to beg the federal government for money because sales tax revenue has also tanked.
Pandemics are once-in-a-century events, and they require once-in-a-century responses. We’ve taken the drastic steps necessary to slow the virus; the next step is crafting a plan to accelerate the economy. The time is now to figure out how to get back to work.
Tomlinson writes commentary about business, economics and policy.