The pandemic of 2020 is the first time America has dealt with a major health care crisis within the maelstrom of 24/7 social media. It has been both incredibly helpful and challenging as many of the discussions seem to be divided starkly by political bias. For the average American, this is not only frustrating but harmful, as lives and the survival of business depends upon sound information.
One question of great importance is how state and local government should deal with this crisis, to include calls for stay at home orders and sheltering in place. There is no question that the risks posed by this disease, as communicated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pose a threat not recently experienced by Americans. We are in uncharted waters. This disease has a long latency period, seems to pose modest risks to most Americans, while posing a dire health risks to the elderly suffering from multiple heath issues, and we have no current vaccine.
Recognizing that this challenge is likely to remain with us for many weeks if not months, it is critical we come up with a bipartisan plan for bringing businesses back on line quickly to avoid the collapse of our economy, which arguably, is as important to the American people as beating this disease. America has dealt with pandemics before. In 2009 the H1N1 virus costs 12,469 Americans lives, in that case striking children with greater fervor than the elderly. A vaccine was not available until late in the game and there were no shutdowns.
Mark Penn, chief strategist for Hillary Clinton 2008 presidential campaign, has called for a 60 day game plan to battle the virus and save the economy. “We have to defeat the virus” write Mark Penn, “and not let the virus defeat us.”
This means looking for examples, such as Japan and other Asian nations, where people are already returning to work. In Japan, there have been no shutdowns, their transit systems are operational, and their testing lagged much like in the United States. Asia has dealt with deadly viruses for decades, learning how to live with disease while keeping their economies functioning. Again, let there be no mistake, I am not sanguine to this disease but concerned that in our rightly focused intent to protect lives, we not crush the lifeblood of our nation - jobs and the economy.
In Tampa and Hillsborough County we have sharp leaders committed to protecting our citizens. These brave elected officials are making tough decisions each day. Our mayor has expressed interest in issuing a shelter in place order that might well close our local businesses. I urge that if forced to shut down our businesses, we establish a plan, as suggested by Penn, that lays out a 60 day game plan for getting back to work.
This is a unique problem that demands the most creative and thoughtful approach by government in Tampa Bay’s history. I suggest the following:
1. Create a joint Hillsborough County / City of Tampa Economic Pandemic response team which formulates policies and procedures which enable essential services to continue and businesses deemed essential to remain open.
2. Allow businesses to remain open which follow carefully designed procedures set forth by health care professionals, to include the hiring of individuals whose sole responsibility is the maintenance of a clean and safe business environment.
3. The ordering of newly approved testing platforms for the COVID19 virus which allow the county to promptly monitor the health and safety of our citizens and track those that are ill.
4. Reinforce policies and procedures that insures those at greatest risks to this disease are fully protected.
This nation, as Penn rightly notes, has weathered world wars and put a man on the moon. We can beat this disease, while protecting the health and welfare of our citizens, which means our economic well being.
That is the greatest challenge of our time and likely the new normal. Our mayor, city council and county commission are up to the task.
Mark Sharpe is the executive director of the Tampa Innovation Partnership. He served as a Hillsborough County commissioner from 2004 to 2014.