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All across America, the fear of contracting the dreaded coronavirus is compounded by another crippling illness --acute financial despair as business closures and rampant joblessness grip the nation in a vise of economic hardship.
It is welcome news, then, that President Trump is contemplating the creation of a second task force dedicated to devising a comprehensive plan to reopen the U.S. economy and rebound from the debilitating consequences of a pandemic that has all but ground businesses to a halt. Such a task force is not just imperative, it is indispensable if our country is to recover its economic vitality as rapidly as conditions reasonably permit.
The idea, suggested by my Fox News colleague Dana Perino, is every bit as essential as the medical task force assembled by the president to battle the COVID-19 plague.
That team advising the White House has done commendable work, but its sole objective of reducing transmission is understandably myopic. It was neither assigned nor qualified to consider the dire macroeconomic impact of widespread lockdowns that have ravaged and reversed the engine of commerce and growth.
Pervasive unemployment, empty bank accounts and mounting debt are choking Americans in the wake of all the shuttered businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy. The result is a pecuniary pandemic that is just as frightening as the virus itself --perhaps more so.
President Trump should move expeditiously to mobilize this new economic task force to tackle the financial calamity of business closures that, however well-intentioned, may cause lasting damage to America's economic health.
Trump well recognizes that human suffering has more than one dimension and that physical welfare is invariably intertwined with personal economic health. On Saturday, the president reiterated his earlier expressed belief that well-intended remedies must not be fatal. He told reporters, "The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. We've got to get our country open."
If, as a nation, we ignore or minimize the unintended consequences of shutdowns designed to arrest the virus yet fail to craft a blueprint for a speedy recovery, we are quite like the surgeon who announces that "the operation was a success but the patient died."
Congress recently passed a $2 trillion economic aid package that offers some immediate, albeit limited, relief. But this is little more than palliative care.
Perino has recommended an economic task force composed of "a nonpartisan/bipartisan mix of experts across industry sectors." These are people who are more practiced than politicians on what is needed to resuscitate economic activity by restarting businesses and putting Americans back to work.
This new task force should not compete with the White House team of medical professionals. Both should work in concert to weigh the economic exigencies against the health risks in determining when and where businesses can reopen while taking every precaution to safeguard the well-being of employees and the public at large.
Reporters who incessantly remonstrate with Trump and clamor for him to declare a nationwide shutdown are (no surprise) mistaken. The coronavirus does not constitute the identical threat everywhere because the number of infected cases differs dramatically by region. City and state officials are better equipped to make those decisions, as the president has correctly explained. A one-size-fits-all approach would be inappropriate and counterproductive.
An economic task force could provide needed guidance. In doing so, it should consider input from doctors on the frontlines of treating virus patients, like UCLA's Joseph A. Ladapo who penned a column in USA Today arguing persuasively that it is too late for shutdowns. Dr. Lapado, who also holds a Ph.D. in economics, statistics and decision making, warned that "we will always be vulnerable to the virus spreading rapidly again as soon as shutdown measures are lifted, unless they are immediately reimplemented --over and over and over again."
As we await the production of an effective vaccine in the next 12 to 18 months, Americans may have to accept that the virus cannot be controlled and that our notion of shutdowns as a panacea is wrong, as well as destructive. According to Dr. Lapado, none of the economic models (nor common sense) supports shutdowns. He sums it up this way:
"Can you imagine a United States in which children are forced to forgo proper schooling, unemployment and poverty decimate millions more lives and our economy is strangled into a persistent depression? And all for a virus that, when all is said and done, most people will recover from --even the elderly (death rates are highest in adults older than 80, at 10-20%)? The lockdown cost will be staggering --far more costly than COVID-19's horrific wrath.
Here is my prescription for local and state leaders: Keep shutdowns short, keep the economy going, keep schools in session, keep jobs intact, and focus single-mindedly on building the capacity we need to survive this into our health care system."
President Trump should move expeditiously to mobilize this new economic task force to tackle the financial calamity of business closures that, however well-intentioned, may cause lasting damage to America's economic health. Viable solutions and a comprehensive plan for recovery is desperately needed now. Time is of the essence.