The 17-Day War: A Plan to Reopen America

Peter Wenstrup
4 min readJul 16, 2020

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Right now, educators around the country are scrambling to identify a way to educate our children safely and effectively in this upcoming school year. Experts continue to warn about the risks of prolonged remote learning on our children’s educational outcomes, impacting poor students and students of color most, and we know that losing a year’s worth of learning will do unthinkable harm to our country’s economic potential in the future.

Those same educators have been tremendously creative in their planning for next year. Imaginative remote learning plans, rotating students through the building, utilizing extra spaces, novel check-in processes to scan for symptoms, and more. But any policy that puts kids back in schools will require additional funding: for testing, for protective equipment to protect teachers, and for additional staff. In places where we need to reduce the class size from 25 to 15 for spacing purposes, we’ll have to increase the number of teachers by 67%. A rough estimate of that cost lands us at around $100 billion dollars.

Meanwhile, businesses are facing unprecedented uncertainty. How long will we be in Phase II? Should I place inventory orders for August, or will we be back in Phase I? Should I hire back workers, or ask my current staff to work overtime in Phase III before an inevitable slip to Phase II? Will I get federal support for rent and payroll in the second half of the year? Those who must rely on Congress when trying to make their own business plans are in an unenviable position.

It is time to defeat the virus, rather than endure it. There are several plans out there, including massive amounts of testing and quarantine in the next year. These plans are serious and worth considering. Another one worth considering: A 17-day war to defeat the virus. Two weeks and three weekends. It would require immense coordination, cooperation, and sacrifice from all Americans. On the bright side, we would secure a victory over the virus that would allow schools and most businesses to reopen to something close to normal. No more changing phases every three weeks. No more massive spikes and re-closures. No more masks in rural areas. Our economy starting to heal.

From Saturday, August 29th to Monday, September 14th, the entire country would go into a finite, but intense lockdown. In the weeks leading up to the lockdown, families could stock up on groceries, public health officials could make plans for the largest testing operation yet, and cities could focus on training and equipping essential businesses properly. We would train a public health corps to conduct a massive contact tracing operation so that, within seventeen days, we could test every known contact of every positive case.

When the time came, we would all commit to each other to take every measure to rid our country of this virus. For everyone except the most essential workers — buy your beer and wine beforehand — we would re-commit to one final lockdown. Except this time, it wouldn’t be just folks at home doing their part.

Medical professionals would test as much of the population as possible. This would require the cooperation of all testing facilities in the country and weeks of preparation. We would start by testing large households together in the week before the lock down. We should set a goal of testing 50 million people in 17 days.

Cities would operate free hotel rooms or college dorm rooms for folks who test positive and do not want to contaminate their families. This is key. While 17 days is enough to kill the virus in one person, it could work its way through a household and be very-much present after 17 days.

Border patrol would be rapid-testing people at the border.

We would support folks by issuing a stimulus payment of $2000 on August 14th to allow people to prepare. With several weeks of advanced notice, buyers and supply chains could prepare. Those still working during the lock down would receive $500 in hazard pay.

Public health officials would put people back to work conducting contact tracing, starting with positive cases reported in the seven days before the lock down. This would be a massive effort that would require temporary hiring and training similar to our census efforts. However, if we could ensure tracing for all known positive cases in this time, we could continue quarantine for those contacts and reach our goal:

Fewer than 1500 cases nationwide in seventeen days. Schools open across the country. Almost all businesses open as usual. We could watch football this fall. With fewer than 1500 cases, we could use continued contact tracing and voluntary centralized quarantine to make our way to double-digit cases.

It would be a collective, patriotic effort not seen since World War II. However, if you believe, as I do, that this is the greatest country in the world, you must believe we are capable of defeating this virus.

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Peter Wenstrup

Louisiana schoolteacher, father, Democrat, and candidate for the United States Senate.