We need to accept that life in the United States will not be without risk until a vaccine for covid-19 is developed. The American people intuitively understand this, and they’ve never asked for a risk-free life. We all have to take responsibility for how we move forward because that’s what we do as Americans. We move forward in the face of fear and the unknown because we believe in each other. That is who we have been throughout our history. The American Revolution, westward expansion, Lincoln’s decision to preserve the Union, the fight against fascism and Nazism, and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. All filled with fear. Each step along the way dominated by the unknown, potentially leading to loss of life. The United States did not wait until all of that was definitively swept away to move forward. We moved forward anyway — together.
I publicly supported aggressive actions taken against the virus and even more aggressive steps that were not adopted. I never thought covid-19 was a hoax. I spoke out then to help save American lives. I speak out now to help save the American way of life.
First, we need to use the Defense Production Act to take control of the supply chain needed for testing to be produced for each and every state to access and manage. President Trump did this to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment. We should take the same action to give states what they need to manage a vigorous testing regime to control further spread of the virus.
Second, we should analyze data county by county and begin to open activities, schools and businesses if that county’s covid-19 experience supports it. There are not only state-to-state differences but also differences within states. Those different experiences should lead to staggered openings. To mitigate increases in the virus, all those using the newly reopened businesses and schools must wear masks and gloves. That will be a new reality for much of America. This will not allow for large gatherings of people such as concerts or sporting events in the near term, but it will allow most people to go back to work and school and to reopen businesses with these additional social distancing safeguards.
Third, we must continue to urge vulnerable individuals to limit their exposure to others and require those with covid-19 symptoms to stay home as well.
Fourth, we must require that employers and public venues institute temperature checks for their employees and customers as a condition of return and entry. Businesses should begin at 50 percent capacity of employees and customers and only increase upon improving data in their county. These actions will begin to restore public confidence to our travel, restaurant, retail and hotel businesses. If we do not begin to restore these industries soon, we may not be able to replicate these key parts of American life.
Fifth, we should restore construction activities of all kinds with workers using masks and gloves at all times. Even more importantly, the next congressional relief package should include a bipartisan infrastructure bill to rebuild our roads, bridges, airports and tunnels. This will create thousands of jobs to rebuild our economy and put food on the tables of U.S. households. Given the lessened automobile and mass transit traffic, this is the perfect time to begin this long-overdue work and will provide a jump-start to economic recovery.
These are just the first five actions we need to take. We have a few weeks to get the plan together, convince the public, and allow the states and federal government to execute. When we rebuilt New Jersey in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the task looked nearly impossible. I told New Jerseyans the day after the storm that our lives would never be the same and that the road back to a new normal would be difficult and littered with some stumbles and mistakes. The road back from this virus will be no different. Our first and most successful tool in getting it done after Sandy was by honestly mapping out the road ahead and, as a result, restoring our faith in each other. To restore our belief in who we are as Americans, we must do the same thing now. This plan is not without risk, but the greater risk is in not acting now to restore the American way of life.