The Hero School Team
The Hero School’s founder, Captain Dave Merino, recently responded to a Bloomberg “discussion” of the drive to reopen the U.S. economy in the midst of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
After reminding us that our first, non-negotiable priority must be saving lives, Captain Dave noted that, “Idle hands in a productive country during a crisis are a squandered resource.” He urged leaders to undertake a plan of putting people to work directly on the problem itself.
So is it really possible to merge the goals of safeguarding public health and creating useful jobs, instead of pitting these aims against each other? Here’s a look at the critical tasks we must complete to reach the other side of this dark tunnel, and how we can tap into the legendary productivity of the American workforce to get them done.
The Massive Work of Contact Tracing
As NPR recently reported, contact tracing is not glamorous work. Yet it remains one of the most powerful tools available to combat an epidemic. In the case of this novel coronavirus, contact tracing involves tracking down every individual who has recently shared space with a specific person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Effective contact tracing involves two key elements. Organizing and analyzing the reams of data collected require some real statistical know-how, making this work ideal for furloughed market researchers, bookkeepers, et al. Gathering the needed data requires making thousands of phone calls to potentially infected individuals, prying into how they are feeling, and asking them to undergo such inconveniences as testing or strict self-quarantine.
This phone and messaging work demands serious customer service prowess. The many currently displaced workers with expertise in dealing with the irritated public, including restaurant servers and retail store sales associates, have the skills needed.
Large-scale Testing Requires a Giant Support Team
Nearly all experts agree that returning to anything resembling normal life will only be possible in the U.S. with the implementation of a broad, national coronavirus testing program. Ultimately, this testing will take two forms: direct testing to identify currently infected people; and antibody testing to find those who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19, and therefore have immunity against it (at least in theory).
Unfortunately, both options might still be weeks or months away. After early progress, scientists announced yesterday that they have encountered setbacks in developing scalable antibody testing methods, according to CNN. And of course, the many problems America has had in deploying wide-scale direct testing for the disease have dominated news headlines for weeks.
Nevertheless, far-reaching testing remains our clearest path to salvation. Naturally, the actual work of conducting and analyzing tests must be handled by trained medical practitioners. However, as the state of Washington learned over a month ago during its impressively early implementation of drive-up testing, running a coronavirus testing center requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.
Once again, the need for number crunchers will be great. Every testing center will also require plenty of support personnel to direct traffic, manage customer emotions, work with shipping personnel to get tests to the proper labs, and more.
Quarantine Facilities Must Be Built and Maintained
Strict quarantining of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 has helped countries like South Korea and Singapore “flatten their curves” relatively quickly. Most people who contract the disease can recover on their own, but they need a comfortable place to do so where they will not infect others.
While the quality of quarantine facilities varies widely, repurposed hotels and dormitories can provide a good balance of safety and resident comfort. Food delivery by personnel fully shielded in hazmat suits ensures complete isolation of infected individuals, until doctors give the all-clear for them to return to the world outside.
As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, quarantining operations of this sort have already been put in place locally in some regions of the U.S. To build out the capacity we must have at the ready in case of a resurgence in infections, however, will require a great many worker-hours to create, maintain, and staff the facilities.
PPE Production Must Scale Up Immediately
None of these activities can be safely undertaken until the U.S. finally begins producing and smoothly distributing adequate quantities of desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPE) nationwide. The Hero School recently learned of a clinic near Detroit, Michigan where support staff have been given ONE medical-grade mask each, and asked to use homemade cloth masks after that one wears out. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.
Converting production at factories is extremely complicated. Reimagining distribution patterns requires massive brainpower. In short, boosting PPE production to the level we need to reopen the nation is going to be hard. Hard is good. Hard means lots of work for lots of people with a vast diversity of skills. Once again, the dilemma holds its own solution.
Getting to Work on the Great Supply Chain Challenge
Reports have recently surfaced in the Wall Street Journal and other sources that U.S. dairy and poultry farmers are dumping vast quantities of milk and eggs, while grocery store shelves sit empty and many in the country are desperate for food. These farmers would love nothing more than to serve the needs of the hungry and suffering right now, but they simply have no way to do so.
From fresh food to that most coveted of all items this spring, toilet paper, America’s supply chains are divided into commercial and consumer channels, and never the twain shall meet. Except that now, it is essential that we find some way to merge them. Empty hotels and workplaces mean that farmers and factories serving the commercial channel cannot distribute their goods. Full houses mean that grocery stores and producers serving the consumer chain just cannot keep up with demand.
Getting goods from the producers ready to sell them to the people who desperately need them will take brains and brawn in spades. From logistics expertise to skill with a forklift, this problem demands a full spectrum of worker talents. And getting PPE to all the workers in the fields and processing plants cannot happen soon enough.
Bottom Line: Merge the Problems to Find the Best Solution
The pain that this awful pandemic has caused across our country and around the world will not soon fade away, nor should it. Grief will be our constant companion for a long time to come. Yet if we continue to see saving lives and getting back to work as competing priorities, it could easily set us on a path toward even worse outcomes.
The plain reality is that this microscopic, merciless killer has threatened our lives and our livelihoods at once. Responding to those dual impacts as a single problem will unleash the amazing power of the American workforce to make us a healthier, safer, stronger nation on the comeback trail.
*BONUS: Special Mission for The Bangles & Weird Al*
As the Hero School’s recent report on coronavirus responses along the I-35 corridor showed, many Americans have not yet gotten the message regarding the crucial role that meticulous hand washing plays during a pandemic. The importance of this simple act will only grow when people begin returning to work.
We would like to propose a creative approach to getting the message out, one that will tap into the talents of performing artists currently sidelined from touring. In 1986, The Bangles had a huge hit with their novelty song, “Walk Like an Egyptian.” They did not imagine that their goofy creation could help a nation rebound from the devastation of a pandemic. But we think it could.
Listen up, Susanna Hoffs, Peterson sisters, Weird Al, and Michael Steele if you are available! It is time to create an educational parody of that old hit, titled “Wash Like a Physician.” So fire up those home studios and get to work! America needs you.
Wall Street Journal