States should “expeditiously” allow Americans to go back to work in certain areas during the COVID-19 pandemic while proceeding cautiously with targeted mitigation, caring for the vulnerable, and making realistic boosts in testing and contact tracing, The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission recommends.

The 17-member commission released a host of recommendations Monday designed to guide the private sector and governments at every level in reopening the coronavirus-battered economy. 

The panel chaired by Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James also calls for the federal government to relax regulations to speed up innovation in health care.

The 17-page report, with 47 specific recommendations, emphasizes the need for President Donald Trump, Congress, and state and local leaders to exercise bipartisanship to restore public trust. 

The recommendations, approved after the group’s second meeting Monday, cover the first two phases of its five-phase plan for reopening America. These two phases are 1) “Return to a more normal level of business activity at the regional level based on scientific data” and 2) “Slow the spread of the coronavirus while expanding testing, reporting, and contact tracing.”   

Still to come are the commission’s recommendations for three more phases: 3) “Continue to build the science,” 4) “Establish U.S. leadership in leading the free world in economic recovery,” and 5) “Reduce future risks of pandemics.” 

“These initial recommendations for recovery provide governments at every level and the American people with a framework to slow the spread of the virus and to prudently begin getting back to work and to some sense of normal,” James said in a prepared statement. 

“The commission is moving quickly to make sure our five-phase plan will save both lives and livelihoods,” she said. “I look forward to bringing these ideas to President Trump’s Great American Economic Revival effort and to the American people.”

The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission assembled by Heritage includes experts with experience in government, public health, disaster response and relief, academia and education, business, and religion.

Its suggestions come just days after the Trump administration released a three-phase approach for restarting the nation that will be decided on a state-by-state basis. 

“Businesses in counties with low incidence should be allowed to reopen,” the report says, adding:

In some cases, it may be necessary to impose some limitations. For example, restaurants might have to limit the number of patrons they seat at any given time, and staff might be required to wear masks and gloves; grocers may continue  to take steps to ensure that commonly touched items are kept clean. Healthy, low-risk workers should be allowed to return to their jobs immediately, and vulnerable populations (the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions) should remain at home.

The report says states should continue to take steps to protect those at special risk for contracting the disease, such as the elderly, those in nursing homes, and those with preexisting conditions.

Individuals who develop coronavirus symptoms “should immediately notify their employer, remove themselves from the workplace, and self-isolate,” the report states. 

The recommendations call for “repeat testing” in 48 hours if a symptomatic person tests negative. The result would determine whether a person returns to work or follows the latest mitigation guidance. 

“Governors should also focus on the remaining populations unable to return to work, including individuals who do not feel comfortable returning to work but otherwise can be offered an antibody and an antigen test and then offered the opportunity to return to work,” the report says. 

The commission recommends that states gather better data through targeted testing and contact tracing, but specifies that governors should “reject calls for complete testing of every American prior to loosening social distancing.” 

States instead should “embrace targeted testing,” the commission says, adding: “We must not keep the economy shut down until universal testing is available.”

The panel also calls for testing asymptomatic Americans and “random-sample” testing” at the state and county levels to “help to determine the prevalence of the virus.”

States should develop contact tracing with privacy protections, the commission recommends. Contact tracing means determining who someone diagnosed with COVID-19 came in contact with in recent days. 

“As very large numbers of those who are infected are asymptomatic, they do not know they have the virus and they pose a major threat to older Americans, particularly those that have certain underlying health conditions, such as cardiac and respiratory problems, or who suffer from diabetes and obesity, the report says.

The commission calls for containing virus infection hot spots and those areas where evidence suggests a hot spot is likely to develop, through “targeted mitigation measures.” The panel says public officials “should consider taking more aggressive steps to combat the contagion in these areas.”

On the state level, the commission also recommends that: 

  •  Governors take the lead on “pro-business reforms to jump-start the economy and encourage consumer confidence.”
  • States help families return to work by making existing K-12 funding “student-centered and portable.”
  • States remove occupational licensing requirements and reduce regulatory burdens on essential services.

The commission suggests that local public health officials and governments at the county and municipal levels work to protect vulnerable populations, limit the spread of the virus, and ensure the health care system responds effectively. It says local officials should leverage “unique relationships” with community leaders, businesses, nonprofits, and the faith community to address local needs.      

At the federal level, the commission calls for Trump to “direct federal agencies to provide additional access to information on the spread of the novel coronavirus, including [computer] modeling and data.” 

The commission suggests the president should direct agencies not to enforce a range of regulations against small businesses, which have been hit hard by the pandemic. 

“The commission recommends that the president call for a review of all regulations that inhibit economic growth and extend the two-for-one and centralized review requirements to the independent regulatory commissions and agencies,” the report states. 

The Trump administration early on implemented a policy of rescinding two government regulations for every new one imposed.

The Department of Health and Human Services should do more to increase innovation in medicine, the commission says. Other relevant agencies should make permanent all “interim guidance and interim final rules streamlining crisis response,” it adds.

The commission says the administration should reduce tariffs to reinvigorate supply chains:

Unsurprisingly, global trade will decrease because of the coronavirus. The World Trade Organization has forecasted global trade to fall between 13% and 32% in 2020. The removal of U.S. tariffs would benefit the economy not only in the long term but would also help speed up recovery.

The commission’s report makes numerous recommendations to Congress, focused on containing the virus and on targeted and temporary economic relief that avoids bailouts. These suggested congressional actions include: 

  • Provide funding to facilitate access to testing in coordination with the president. 
  • Provide the executive branch the flexibility to suspend costly regulations without an extensive process.
  • Increase the charitable deduction cap for taxes.
  • Make authorized funding “portable” for children from low-income families and children with special needs so that the money could be used to pay for in-home tutors and behavioral therapies, among other uses.
  • Protect civil liberties while creating new programs related to testing, contact tracing, or any other public health measure. 

Of civil liberties, the report says: 

The erosion of civil liberties in the name of security is never temporary, as we have seen post–September 11. America must not devolve into a surveillance state; such power is always susceptible to abuse and is a distinct danger inherent in the deployment of contact-tracing technologies. Congress should both investigate privacy issues regarding utilization of IT [information technology] solutions and provide incentives for the development and deployment of those technologies consistent with American values and law.

The commission suggested that the private sector and civil society do more to inform and educate young people and minorities about COVID-19.

Faith-based groups and nongovernmental organizations should increase their focus on mental health, the commission says:

Community organizations are already noting mental health challenges for people experiencing social isolation and stress. Communities need programs designed to address mental health problems specifically related to the isolation of pandemic.

For the health care sector, the commission calls for ensuring that vulnerable populations don’t wind up at the bottom of the triage process. 

“The elderly, medically fragile, and persons with significant disabilities should always be treated with dignity and a recognition of their inherent and equal worth as a human being, the report states. 

When businesses open, it says, they should have a plan for doing so safely and responsibly: 

Businesses have learned much about the value of work from home arrangements, and should continue to encourage and facilitate ‘work from home’ wherever possible. Where this is challenging, businesses should encourage and facilitate appropriate public health measures in the workplace, including as appropriate shift-work strategies and minimizing mass gatherings wherever possible.