Brookings Institution Webinar Outlines ‘Roadmap for Reopening America: How to Save Lives and Livelihoods’

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The Brookings Institution recently hosted a conversation about how to safely reopen the country – economically and in terms of public health.

Keynote speakers Jennifer Nuzzo of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health made clear that we are not out of the woods yet though U.S. cases are beginning to slow. She explained how testing has been constrained, limiting the ability to identify and isolate infections. Nuzzo advised more strategic testing, contact tracing, and isolating as critical actions to manage the virus’ spread as the country begins to reopen.

Institution researchers and panelists William A. Galston, Ross A. Hammond, Molly Kinder, Rashawn Ray, and David Wessel explained the challenges and necessary actions to manage COVID-19 as the country reopens with these key findings:

More testing and contact tracing are needed to safely reopen.
The country isn’t fully ready to reopen. The testing and monitoring infrastructure needed to effectively manage the spread or surge of this virus are not yet in place. More testing and subsequent contact tracing are essential to isolating infections and directing treatment. Galston explained the need for diagnostic and sorting measures to identify vulnerable populations as well as on-the-spot, rapid-results testing for workers.

Racial and socioeconomic disparities must be acknowledged and corrected.
This virus has disproportionately impacted minority and low-income communities in terms of both cases and deaths. Kinder’s research focusses on essential workers and the toll of COVID-19 they face. Among a host of other income- and place-based obstacles, most of these workers’ roles do not allow for remote working to minimize their exposure.

“Social distancing is a privilege,” Ray said. These populations are faced with devastating choices between prioritizing their health or their ability to support themselves and their families. Ray furthered this discussion emphasizing the lack of health equity and access among these communities. Factors like the structural conditions of neighborhoods and preexisting health conditions need to be addressed to safely reopen the country without further damage among those most severely impacted by lack of health care and economic support.

For a successful recovery, business and government need to prioritize workers’ needs.
As the country’s reopen gets underway, specific, enforceable workforce standards are essential. “Workers should not be forced by economic necessity to return to unsafe workplaces,” Galston said.

Hammond emphasized the need to empower Americans to adhere to safety guidelines amid the reopen – making it physically and financially feasible to isolate and/or recover. Measures like hazard pay and paid sick leave for endangered, low-wage workers will make the reopening and recovering of the country safer for all. Wessel also advises policymakers to not end economic support prematurely and do a better job of ensuring that those most in need are actually receiving available aid.

Transparency and accountability among leadership to tend to the most vulnerable populations in terms of economic support and health equity will ensure a successful recovery.

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