In less than two months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought tragedy to every corner of America — with nearly a million sickened (that we know of), nearly 50,000 fatalities, tens of millions out of work, and mounting frustration from everyday Americans facing the double whammy of economic devastation and social isolation.
But there have also been incredible stories of community solidarity and triumph — frontline workers and everyday neighbors stepping up in ways big and small. People of all ages are learning to connect in new ways. And from creating new domestic supply chains to stronger platforms for distance learning, we’ve seen plenty of examples of American ingenuity at its finest.
Today, and especially in states that mounted significant mitigation measures early — there is cause for hope that the “curve” may have flattened.
As the first state in the nation to issue a “shelter in place” order, California has not experienced the spike in COVID-19 infections nor fatalities that have besieged the healthcare systems of other states. This is a credit to the resilience of its people and the foresight of many of its policy makers.
In addition to legislative work that remains urgently needed to contain the economic damage that’s already been sustained, everyone agrees the next challenge is not whether to eventually ease up on the emergency measures put in place to slow the spread, it’s “how” and “when.”
To answer the latter question, we’ve always needed to know more about the biology, lethality, and penetration of this disease into our communities. It was, after all, the huge number of unknowns that drove the need for mitigation in the first place.
Widespread and reliable testing has always been critical for this reason — not just so policy makers know enough to make the right choices, but so families, workers, and businesses can have confidence in their recommendations.
Preliminary antibody testing suggests the disease was far more widespread than we knew and may have a lower fatality rate than first feared (though still at least twice as deadly as the flu). But, it is also limited, and makes clear that more data is needed for widespread confidence. Comprehensive disease and antibody testing — coupled with robust contact tracing, temperature checks and sanitization practices — can confirm these trends, and enable communities that begin returning to pre-COVID social conditions to prevent additional outbreaks from spiraling and overwhelming their health systems. Getting these measures in place across our communities is critical to successfully and reliably open and reignite our economy.
At the same time, Congress must continue to act with solutions to support our economy, workers and small businesses, both immediately and in the future. The bi-partisan relief measures passed thus far were a well-intentioned start, but flaws in both design and execution have left many small businesses — across our Congressional District and nation — frustrated and unfunded. The best example is the Paycheck Protection Program, which was intended as a bridge to help small businesses shuttered by “shelter in place” orders keep workers on their payroll. Yet funds have already been exhausted and too many businesses have been unable to access capital. Future Congressional action is needed to replenish the fund (which the Senate passed yesterday) and fix these inequities. Work must also be done to address the budget strain this pandemic has brought to hospitals, municipalities and states.
Americans are understandably eager to get back to their jobs and some semblance of normalcy. However absent a vaccine or effective treatment, the “how” of reopening needs to be a matter of prudence and risk management. Even if the early antibody data on the penetration and lethality of COVID-19 proves prescient, we must be far more proactive with testing and contact tracing to ensure a second wave of outbreaks is not equally damaging to our communities, health system or economy.
We’ll need to move cautiously, particularly as it relates to enterprises where large groups are commonplace and social distancing is impractical. This likely applies to things like large sporting events and elections, where we should encourage more people to vote by mail. In my own Congressional District, roughly three quarters of voters are already registered to make their voices heard in this way — including 78% of Republicans. And more people vote in our district than any other place in California.
Ultimately while certain types of guidance may need to apply to entire states, local directives should reflect the differences in risk factors between denser urban areas, suburbs and rural communities.
Even under the rosiest of public health scenarios, recovery will not be a short- term proposition.
But the pandemic has also provided a roadmap for the types of policies we’ll need to make our communities — and especially the small businesses at the heart of our local economies — more resilient going forward.
Having built a business from scratch myself, I know that we need our policy makers to stop pretending that all businesses have the same access to capital, or the same capabilities to meet tax and regulatory burdens.
Small businesses create most of the new jobs in our economy, but they are also the most vulnerable to major disruptions like COVID-19. To recover, they’ll need tax incentives that encourage more local investment from individuals, funds and banks, including equity stakes, and zero and low interest loans.
At an operational level, we need to lower tax rates and reduce regulatory costs for these types of enterprises, and ensure policy designs actually deliver as promised. We need rural opportunity zones, where independent and locally owned small businesses and those who support them can qualify for greater regulatory and tax relief — as can both in-person and remote workers in these areas.
Access to healthcare and modern infrastructure will ultimately be the glue that’s needed to make a long-term recovery stick. On healthcare, the market needs more competition to ensure access to coverage and put downward pressure on premiums, which are diverting too much money away from workers and businesses. A Medicare buy-in option could relieve some of this pressure, while giving more people the access to affordable care.
Remote work — which was already on the ascent long before this pandemic — should also be encouraged. As a practical matter, this has potential to bring more good paying jobs to rural communities, instead of job opportunities being disproportionately confined to large coastal cities where the cost of living is higher. Research has shown that that one remote worker can create as many as four additional jobs through additional demand for local services, among other benefits.
Similarly, the current state of our nation’s power and broadband infrastructure leaves entire communities exposed if and when COVID-19 — or a similarly virulent threat — re-emerges. If communities can’t get online, or the power equipment that’s outlived its design life gets shutoff to prevent a fire, we needlessly raise the economic and public health risks — particularly for suburban and rural communities. America needs to prioritize the modernization of these and other infrastructure systems knowing that the cost and risk will only grow each day we fail to act. And we can put millions of Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own in this crisis back to work in the bargain.
Finally, while this once in a century national crisis has necessitated significant temporary spending, it means we’ll need to be more vigilant in the work of making government work smarter. We must return to annual audits of every federal agency and our tax code — tied to hard performance and economic impact metrics — that ensure our tax dollars are being spent wisely. This should include active integration of new technologies to root out waste, streamline antiquated bureaucracies and make them more efficient and effective.
Ultimately, a national recovery from COVID-19 will not be measured in short-term stock market gains or partisan political conquests. It will need to be a long term effort that unites communities and governments in the mission of managing risk, investing in resilience and reigniting our economy.
America has always faced tragedy with determination and unflinching resolve — not just to do what’s hard, but to do what’s necessary. Our frontline workers are the living symbol of this enduring spirit today. But as we contemplate the opening of our nation and the hard work of recovery that lies ahead, we will need our policy makers to respond in-kind.
Brynne Kennedy is running for Congress in California’s Fourth District because she believes Americans can do more together. An accomplished businesswoman, Brynne has created new solutions to help more Americans thrive in today’s economy. As our voice in Washington, she will fight to take our government back from the corrupt special interests, and will put partisanship aside to put our communities first. To learn more about the campaign visit www.brynneforcongress.com; or visit our online Coronavirus hub at www.brynneforcongress.com/coronavirus.