In a final report released Monday, The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission makes 265 recommendations for getting America back to work, stopping the spread of COVID-19, and being prepared for the next pandemic.
The recommendations are aimed at federal, state, and local government leaders as well as the business and nonprofit sector amid a pandemic that has killed 115,000 Americans and wiped out millions of jobs and thousands of businesses.
With release of the final report, the commission and Heritage policy experts will continue working with policymakers in Washington and state capitals to implement the recommendations, said Heritage President Kay C. James, who chaired the commission.
“While other public and private task forces looked at either the economic or public health aspects of the pandemic, the commission focused on finding the right balance between the two,” James said, adding:
Our task hasn’t been an either-or between saving lives and saving the economy. If the economy fails, there will be severe, long-term health consequences. If we fail in stopping the disease, there will be severe, long-term economic consequences. The commission’s mission has been about protecting both lives and the livelihoods of the American people.
The 17-member commission, which began its work in April, includes experts with experience in government, public health, disaster response and relief, academia and education, business, and religion.
James and other commission members had a teleconference Monday morning with Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force.
Pence said the White House will review the recommendations, which include:
Expanding telemedicine options through phone, email, and video conferences via applications such as Skype to replace in-person visits in some cases.
Reviewing the executive powers of governors, to be done by state legislatures, in light of recent coronavirus-related overreaches.
In remarks from a video conference on release of the commission’s report, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia noted the nation’s low unemployment rate and surging wages before the pandemic hit in February.
“In a matter of days, life changed completely. The coronavirus sent the nation into hibernation,” Scalia said, noting 40 million unemployment claims filed over two months as well as the great loss of life.
“The president was right to recognize that as a nation we had been plunged into an experience comparable to war,” Scalia said. “Like the First or Second World War, combating the virus required a nationwide mobilization of government and of the ingenuity, know-how and productive capacity of American industry.”
There has been a front line in our nursing homes and hospitals. And the front line has been men and women and children across the country staying home to protect fellow Americans. As during war, we have pulled together to achieve national objectives and we have had the chance to consider together what makes this nation great and distinct from others such as China.
In May, government statistics show, the economy added 2.5 million jobs.
“While the May jobs report was unexpected, in a very important sense it was not a surprise,” Scalia said. “We came into our current economic difficulty by a completely different path than prior downturns. It was self-imposed and purposely short term. It did not result from economic weakness. The economy had been very strong. The comparisons to the Great Depression have always been misplaced.”
Scalia stressed that “our job is not done” and called for Americans to continue practicing good hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a mask.
Early on, the commission determined five phases:
1. “Return to a more normal level of business activity at the regional level based on scientific data.”
2. “Slow the spread of the coronavirus while expanding testing, reporting, and contact tracing.”
3. “Continue to build the science.”
4. “Establish U.S. leadership in leading the free world in economic recovery.”
5. “Reduce future risks of pandemics.”
The first phase noted in the report is partly in progress in many states, with a return to a more normal level of business activity at a region-by-region level once the health care system is stabilized with increased testing, reporting, and contact testing.
The second phase will require stronger and effective public health strategy. Business leaders are key in determining “how we can save both lives and livelihoods,” the report says, but government leaders should take judicious actions:
Extreme shutdowns and social distancing measures are creating high unemployment and putting significant pressure on communities and on individuals. Health policy should focus on constraining the spread of the infection, treating and quarantining the sick, and protecting those who are most vulnerable—not on shutting down American life.
The report applies 76 recommendations from this second phase to cover almost every sector of the economy and society, addressing coordination among local, state, a
nd federal governments; testing and contact tracing; regulatory burdens on health care and economic activity; federal financial aid and tax relief; business capital formation; liability protections; emergency education reforms; minority community support; and empowering nongovernmental organizations, faith-based communities, and civil society.
“Economic policy should focus on durable policy solutions and regulatory relief where government has become a barrier to solutions,” the report says, adding: “Americans need paychecks more than they need stimulus checks.”
In the third phase, the report makes 50 recommendations addressing hospital capacity; regulatory streamlining of scientific research, manufacturing, and deployment of vaccines, therapeutics, and disinfectants; access to nonessential medical care; information communication; mental health; and the improvement of epidemiological understanding.
“Increase the availability and rapidity of new diagnostic tests while supporting the acceleration and introduction of proven therapeutics and vaccines,” the report says. It later adds: “The public and private sectors, academia, and international partnerships are needed to advance knowledge and drive solutions.”
For the fourth phase covering U.S. leadership during the economic recovery, the report makes 62 recommendations covering international travel; immigration; free trade agreements; the World Health Organization; supply chain diversification; international education programs; and regional approaches for North America, transatlantic partnerships, and China.
The report calls for the United States to partner with allies in promoting economic growth after the global downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic:
In all of history, there has been no better model than that of free markets in lifting people out of poverty and into better, healthier standards of living. America must leverage its natural strengths of freedom and free enterprise to reinvigorate economic activity at home and abroad. …
The U.S. should intentionally be proactive in promoting ‘free trade’ internationally. Protectionist barriers should be reduced, with the caveats that trade should be economically fair over time, should protect intellectual property, and should be inherently safe.
Reopening international supply lines and removing barriers to free trade will be critical to improving access to innovative life-saving technology and products to fight the virus, rebuild supply chains, and leverage collaboration that can help reinvigorate businesses from the ground up.
The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission’s report makes 77 recommendations for reducing the risks of pandemics in the future.
These include investing in national and state stockpiles; reforming supply chains; and developing strategies to meet the demands of crises; developing the supply of antiviral agents; seeking to develop vaccines for coronaviruses; and investing in an international biosurveillance network to detect and contain emerging infectious diseases through coordination and cooperation.
Noting many past pandemics over the past century, the commission’s report says it’s not possible to prevent a future one.
“We can, however, better prepare for how to respond and to reduce the risks and costs associated with the next pandemic,” the report says. “In response to the current novel coronavirus, public institutions at every level have played a critical role, though not every government action was necessary or appropriate.”
Governments at all levels must review how funding is prioritized and amend their regulatory environments to improve the dexterity of responses to crises; businesses must learn how to adapt quickly to an environment where large scale innovations are needed to continue providing goods and services while responding to current demands; and civil society must be strengthened so that Americans have a place to turn when they need concrete community support and to be reminded of hope.
This article by Fred Lucas first appeared in The Daily Signal on June 15, 2020.