How to get Americans back to work quickly

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The Hon. John Norris is an FDA Former Principal Deputy Commissioner, a Harvard Former Health Policy and Management Faculty Member, and Chairman of FDTH Regulatory Affairs Strategies, as well as an inventor-entrepreneur and frequent drug, device, Healthcare-IT, clinical lab, and hospital-system visionary, and board member.

We can get millions of Americans back to work with better, smarter testing that identifies those with active virus infections and those who are now immune.

By John Norris

We cannot wait for a vaccine or for the coronavirus to run its course before re-starting the world’s largest economy. We can very quickly get millions of Americans back to work with better, smarter testing that both identifies those with active virus infections and those who – through previous asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infections – are now immune.

My first two articles laid out, first, how we can save lives by keeping our homes virus-free, and, second, the importance of the rapid manufacture and deployment of fully at-home testing to help us defeat the coronavirus.

Those steps will help save lives, which is clearly our most important consideration. But saving our economy is a very close second, given its importance in the physical, mental, and financial health of all our citizens. The US is the world’s leader in business, so if the U.S. economy falls, so will the world’s.

Turning risk into opportunity

One of the coronavirus’s greatest weapons is that so many of those infected experience little to no symptoms, thereby allowing them to move about freely and infect potentially hundreds of others. Unfortunately, the mildness of symptoms experienced by so many caused a staggering number of people to disregard the warnings of public health workers and continue eating out, shopping, and not observing social distancing, for months.

Tragically, this attitude helped to spread the virus among those who wouldn’t show such mild symptoms, many of whom ended up seriously ill, in ICUs, on ventilators, or dead.

But those previously infected who either experienced no or very mild symptoms – and almost certainly have no idea to this day whether they ever had the virus – are very likely immune. There are probably millions – possibly tens of millions – of Americans who fit this description. And they are the keys to saving our economy.

But only if we can facilitate the expedited manufacture and regulatory approval of a fully at-home blood test to identify both infected individuals and those who are now immune.

As I outlined in my previous articles, the prototype for such a test already exists, and it’s used every day by millions of Americans with diabetes to measure their blood sugar. Such a test – which could cost-effectively, be provided to every American home and many smaller businesses – would transform our battle against this disease and allow us to revive our economy.

An at-home blood test – one that allows individuals to both sample and process the test at home – is simple, safe, and effective, as those who manage their diabetes at home can attest. They are also low cost, can be done without the help of medical professionals, and require no travel time.

This physical plague can be beaten, at the same time we beat the economic plague.

We just need to take a “Bold Action,” a combined massive testing and double sanctuary (one at home and one at work) program to get Americans safely back to work.

To accomplish this goal, we must conduct 30 million tests per day for three days and 30 million every other day for two weeks, all at home. And, then we must conduct 15 million per week at homes and 15 million per week at smaller businesses.

Once the immune have been identified and certified – through at least two at-home tests – they would notify their employer and be permitted to rejoin the workforce, either at their current or previous employer, or wherever they feel they are most needed.

In addition to testing, we must also use a “double-sanctuary” approach, which I will describe in greater detail in my next article. In summary, the goal would be to use testing to enable employees to create and maintain virus-free homes and enable employers to create and maintain virus-free workplaces.

The Rollout

Under this plan, the economy could be up and running to a significant extent, in as little as two weeks after tests are distributed nationwide. The rollout could go as follows:

Phase I. Two weeks. Immune workers in any size businesses will be reemployed and reengaged “everywhere and anywhere,” wherever the worker feels there is the greatest demand for his or her services, first. Because they are immune, there is no need yet to make their employer’s workspace virus-free.

Phase II. Two months. Non-immune workers in smaller businesses will be reemployed and reengaged, wherever there is the greatest demand for them, first. Regular testing, plus rigorous disinfection, would ensure the workplace remains virus-free.

Phase III. Three months, or less. Immune workers AND non-immune workers in any size businesses will be reemployed and reengaged wherever there is the greatest demand for them, first.

In just over five months, tens of millions of American workers will safely be brought back to work. Normal levels of employment will be achieved five months post-viral peak, which now is expected on April 20.

Preparing for a possible rebound in the fall or winter will be our next task. Thankfully, both will likely be reduced and more manageable if we have fully executed this plan, as well as all the many other smart things our leaders, public health experts, scientists, medical personnel, and the public itself, will have by then put in place.

Investing smartly now might make all the difference

If we invest now, it will save trillions of dollars and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives. If the test developers, manufacturers and distributors receive proper levels of funding and regulatory support, soon (by, say, April 15), there are three companies I know of that might fulfill this goal starting on May 1.

We could be a little over one month away from the reawakening of a vibrant economy again. Let’s get to it.

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