Sunday, April 12, 2020

When Can We Reopen the Economy?

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." 

Winston Churchill made this famous statement after the British defeated German forces at the battle of El Alamein in 1942. As Governor Andrew Cuomo observed in his daily briefing yesterday, Churchill's words seem to be a fairly apt description of where we are today in the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the past week, there were glimmers of hope that the initial wave of the pandemic may be subsiding in some parts of Europe. Here in the U.S., New York may be near or at the apex of the coronavirus epidemic curve. On Friday, for example, New York's net increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations (daily admissions less daily discharges) was just 85, down from 1,095 one week earlier. A few other states appear to be in a similar position.
These developments have prompted a growing number of discussions about when and how the U.S. economy can be "reopened." Over the next few weeks, governmental leaders will be under increasing pressure to end or at least relax the "stay at home" orders and mandatory business closings.
The restart of the economy will be a critical milestone for marketing leaders because it will signal the beginning of the "recovery" phase of the coronavirus crisis. To maximize revenue growth, marketing leaders will need to be ready to launch appropriate marketing programs as soon as possible after the recovery phase begins. And that means planning must begin before the economy is reopened.
As with many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, the determination of when and how to restart the economy is a complex issue. There are already conflicting opinions on this issue, and the debate is likely to become more contentious before any decision is made. However, there appears to be an emerging high-level consensus - at least among most health professionals - about what preconditions should exist before the economy is reopened.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and was the Food and Drug Administration commissioner from 2017 to 2019. On March 28, 2020, AEI published a report by Dr. Gottlieb and four colleagues titled National Coronavirus Response:  A Road Map to Reopening
In this report, Dr. Gottlieb and his co-authors described how the United States can transition to tools and approaches that target individuals with the coronavirus infection rather than target entire populations in areas where the transmission of the virus is widespread and not controlled.
The report also lays out four prerequisites that should exist before any state ends or relaxes the "social distancing" measures currently in use. (Note:  The authors wrote that these prerequisites can be applied to localities in a state under certain circumstances.)
Prerequisite 1:  A Reduction in Cases - The first requirement for reopening the economy in a state is when the state reports a sustained reduction in COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days. Fourteen days is the generally accepted incubation period of the coronavirus.
Prerequisite 2:  Sufficient Hospital Capacity - Hospitals in the state must be able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization (both COVID and non-COVID) without resorting to crisis standards of care. This means having an adequate number of beds, adequate staffing, and adequate equipment and supplies.
Prerequisite 3:  Adequate Testing - A state must have the ability to test all hospitalized individuals, health care workers, and workers in other essential services (e.g. first responders), the close contacts of individuals with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and all symptomatic individuals. The authors estimate that the U.S. would need a national capacity of at least 750,000 test per week to meet this requirement.
Prerequisite 4:  Adequate Monitoring - A state must be able to identify all infected individuals (through testing), identify (through tracing) and test the close contacts of infected individuals, and actively monitor all confirmed cases to ensure compliance with quarantines.
Fully satisfying all four of these prerequisites will be a challenging undertaking. It will take time for any state or locality to meed these requirements, and not everyone will meet them at the same time. Therefore, restarting the economy is likely to be an uneven process, with some states or localities reopening before others.
It seems likely that most governmental authorities will adopt some version of these prerequisites. The key for marketing leaders is to monitor the progress being made on these four factors so that they can begin planning in time to have programs ready to launch when the reopening occurs.

Image courtesy of Levan Ramishvili via Flickr (Public Domain)

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