- In a letter to Congress, bipartisan health experts who worked under the Obama and Trump administrations recommend the US should invest $46.5 billion to safely re-open the US economy.
- The letter contains four steps the experts say are necessary to safely open shuttered businesses, including a plan to offer $50 a day in aid — the same rate paid to those on a federal jury — to people who voluntarily self-isolate.
- Increased testing is necessary in order to determine whether “things are stable, getting better, or getting worse,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who signed the letter, told Business Insider.
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The coronavirus pandemic has brought together a group of health experts who worked under the Trump, Obama, and Bush administrations.
The bipartisan group broke down in a letter to Congress on Monday how the US should spend $46.5 billion to safely re-open the US economy.
Among the names were Andy Slavitt, who served as director of Medicare and Medicaid under former President Barack Obama, and Scott Gottlieb, President Donald Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration chief. In total, 16 top health experts signed on to the letter to House and Senate leaders, which was first published by NPR.
The $46.5 billion plan is comprised of three major areas of recommended federal spending:
- $12 billion to expand the contract tracing workforce. The health experts said the number of contract tracing workers in the US needed to be expanded by 180,000 until a vaccine was on the market.
- $4.5 billion would be used to transform vacant hotels into self-isolation facilities for people unable to isolate in their homes. They estimated about 14% of people who have to self-isolate would need such facilities. They suggested the vacant facilities be used for 18 months to both “contain COVID-19” and “provide a much-needed stimulus for the hospitality industry.”
- $30 billion to support people who lose income while voluntarily self-isolating for 14 days. The experts estimated that 40% of individuals need some sort of supplemental income in order to self-isolate. They recommend $50 per person each day, which is equivalent to the daily pay for someone serving on a federal jury.
‘If you’re not testing and people are getting sick out there, then by the time they show up to your hospital, you have a huge wave coming and it’s too late’
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who signed the letter, told Business Insider he wasn’t sure what would happen when portions of the country began to re-open.
“It will depend in part on public health tools to control the virus,” he said. “In a place that has strong public health tools, most people may be able to be back at work if there can be social distancing that works for them. If work is, I don’t know, being in a dance troupe? That may be harder unless they can practice separated.”
Increased testing efforts are key to relaxing social distancing efforts, Sharfstein said, which US experts have said are crucial to battling potential future outbreaks or second “waves” of the disease.
“If you’re not testing and people are getting sick out there, then by the time they show up to your hospital, you have a huge wave coming and it’s too late,” he said. “That’s what happened to us the first time. We need to be testing enough, and cross-community, so that you feel like you have a sense of whether things are stable, getting better, or getting worse.”
The letter also called on Congress to “take steps to ensure the health of primary care practices,” which it said should be instrumental in future COVID-19 testing efforts. They said Medicare should “establish a referral payment code for referring patients who test positive” for COVID-19 to the “proper contract tracing resources.”
The bipartisan group is calling for another stimulus package
The authors of the April 27 letter said Congress should appropriate the funding in the next relief package and distribute it through block grants to states and territories two times each year.
“We believe the direct impact of this investment, along with an adequate testing and containment infrastructure that links in health care providers and businesses, will have a significant economic impact, allowing Americans to get back to work safely and quickly, create employment, stabilize our healthcare system, and stimulate the hospitality sector,” the authors wrote.
Both houses of Congress are expected to be back in session next week, on May 4, after they both took an extended recess due to the ongoing pandemic.
In March, the president signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which provided relief directly to most Americans in the form of checks distributed through the Internal Revenue Service. Last week, Trump signed a nearly $500 billion package, specifically meant to assist small businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the pandemic.
Lawmakers are expected to get to work on the next phase of their COVID-19 stimulus efforts when they are back in session, though it’s not entirely clear what could be included.