This post will attempt to answer the following questions:
- How can we get people back to work and restart the economy without increasing spread of disease?
- How do we make sure people who are allowed back in the workplace are not a risk to the population as a whole?
- How do we enforce this?
14 days after my recovery from COVID-19, even after I was no longer contagious, I was surprised by the accusing glares and distrust I was receiving. It was a bit disturbing. I felt like an outcast as if I was wearing a scarlet letter or mark of Cain. This was in spite of the clear evidence that, since I had recovered, I was almost certainly no longer contagious (for why you can read here).. I was not a threat, in fact, I was one of the safest people to be around. The reason people were so cautious was probably driven by fear overriding rational thought.
I’m sure mine is not a unique experience. It occurred to me that this problem of trust and fear will likely impede our collective recovery from the virus both in terms of our health but also economically. In reality, people who have been infected and recovered should be able to return to society and work without being afraid themselves and without engendering fear in others but there needs to be a way to alleviate the fear of the general public. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of COVID-19 is that people are dying alone. Because of the restrictions on visitation that have become necessary people are dropping off their loved ones at the hospital and often never seeing them again. Many of the hospitalized were in a home where other people were infected as well but recovered. Those who are immune could be allowed to sit with their dying loved ones and prevent this tragic reality.
Those who have recovered could reopen essential businesses and get the economy going again. Some of the millions who are out of work have had the infection and are no longer a threat could go back to their prior jobs or take other temporary jobs filling in gaps in the workforce until their own jobs are restored. They could be allowed to work in healthcare settings filling in gaps left by sick or quarantined hospital workers; they could help comfort those who are sick and alone in hospitals; or they could work as desk clerks or runners. This could free up trained healthcare workers to care for patients.
In reality, people who have been infected and recovered should be able to return to society and work without being afraid themselves and without engendering fear in others.
People who have recovered could also fill in other essential roles in society. They could visit the isolated and elderly individuals that need assistance. They could work in grocery stores (which currently is a major potential source of the spread of infection). They could take on delivery roles. The possibilities are endless. While they are helping fill in gaps for business they will also be generating income for themselves to hold them over until they can return to their prior employment.
Those who have recovered could be vital in restoring life back to normal but there are some issues that would need to be addressed first:
- How do you determine who is immune and can fill these roles safely?
- How do those who are immune identify themselves so as not to create fear and distrust?
- How do we enforce this?
Below is a brainstorm of a possible solution. There are likely many other ways to solve the above problems but I have yet to hear of anything in the works. I thought I would put my idea out there to get your thoughts. Maybe we can even make it a reality.
Step one is to identify who would be eligible to qualify as COVID immune. Step two is to create an identification that can be used to publicize their immune status. Finally, step three is to create a way to enforce the rules to make sure people who are not immune do not abuse the system and put others at risk.
Step 1: To be eligible you would need to have either:
- Tested positive for COVID-19 and have been symptom free for a period of time to be determined by the public health authorities or
- Had antibody testing documenting recovery and the presence of virus specific IgG antibodies.
Step 2: Creation of an identification card:
- The government (federal, state, or local) will set up an office to verify the person’s name and immunity via the above criteria.
- The government will issue an immunity card that is brightly colored and easily identifiable from a distance. This will contain the person’s photo (taken from their driver’s license), name, and a unique QR code. It will come with a lanyard to hang the card around your neck.
- The person will wear this card around their neck when out in public.
Step 3. How it will be enforced:
- The government will create an app with a QR reader that will be made available to the general public.
- Employers and healthcare settings will scan the QR reader to determine eligibility to return to work or to visit a healthcare setting.
- Elderly or high risk individuals could ask to scan someone’s card before allowing them to visit.
- People in general could scan the card to determine who they can come in contact with.
- Fines or other punishments will be established for employers who allow employees to return to work who do not have an immunity card and for individuals who get a card inappropriately.
Imagine if we could start coming out of our homes safely, get back to work, and start stimulating the economy.
This system creates a way for the public to feel at ease when contacting people who are immune. It allows for mass enforcement. It empowers people to identify who is safe to return to work or other high risk environments. It will create a population that can hold the hand of those who are dying.
This system will allow people to gradually fill in gaps in society and in the economy in a way that is safe. As more people become immune more gaps will be filled and more people can start stimulating the economy. This system will act as a bridge until the virus is gone or until a vaccine becomes available. It can then be shelved until the next pandemic arrives.
One obvious key aspect to this system is the need for more widely availability to testing. We need more testing to identify who is ill. We also need to develop on a mass scale testing for antibodies to determine who is immune. This is something that is necessary for preventing the spread as well.
Someone needs to start planning for the transition out of this mess now so that we can minimize the terrible economic damage left in the wake of the virus. Imagine if we could start coming out of our homes safely, get back to work, and start stimulating the economy. If the plan is not set in motion now, we will be left in a position where many immune and recovered people are stuck at home unnecessarily when they could be out improving the situation.
If you agree with my idea or have helpful feedback, I’d love to hear it. I would love to get an audience with my governor (Larry Hogan of Maryland), your governor, the president, mayor, or anybody who will listen. Let’s work together to make it happen.