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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

To Beat COVID-19, President Trump Should Issue National “Shelter in Place” Order

Each day the COVID-19 crisis worsens in the United States.

Cases in the last three days have doubled. The number of deaths has also doubled. Yet we still grossly undercount the number of cases because we only test the sickest people. The curves tracking the spread of the disease and death rates all race upward. The worst situation is in major cities, but that does not mean this coronavirus won’t spread rapidly to rural areas as it has in Colorado.

Right now, the disease is growing in geometric terms: worldwide it took 10 weeks for the first 100,000 cases, 10 days for the second 100,000 and 3 days for the third 100,000. We need to contain the spread of COVID-19 or the human toll both in health and in economic terms will be staggering. The only way we can get control over it is to take more aggressive measures immediately to contain the spread of the disease. That is what China, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore have done. Wuhan, China – once the epicenter of the virus, which took the most dramatic measures to quarantine its population of 11 million – has not reported a case in the last four days. Meanwhile, failure to move quickly in Italy, Iran and Germany has resulted in the rapid spread of the virus and overwhelmed health care systems.

It is now time for President Trump to issue a nationwide “Shelter in Place” order. Governors in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut have already done so, but other states are moving slowly to recognize the inevitability of COVID-19’s spread to their cities and states.

In its simplest terms, “Shelter in Place” means only leaving your home for essential foods and pharmaceuticals. It also permits people to go outside for exercise as long as they stay six feet away from other people. All schools and universities physically close. All non-essential businesses physically close, and operate on-line.  Exceptions to this nationwide order would include health care workers, medical companies producing vital medical supplies, employees engaged in the production and distribution of food, beverages and pharmaceuticals, people in required public service positions, and essential jobs engaged in communication and online commerce.

A “Shelter in Place” order should be accompanied by other measures to help end the crisis, including:

1.    Rapidly expand hospital capacity through construction of emergency overflow treatment centers ensuring treatment options are available to all citizens

2.    Issue the Defense Mobilization order to achieve 10X the production of necessary masks, protective gear, and medical equipment such as ventilators

3.    Continue to expand testing capabilities of private testing companies to increase capacity rapidly

4.    Track all people who have been in contact with a diagnosed case

5.    Communicate this plan and daily updates to the public from the White House Task Force lead by Vice President Pence, along with direct text messages to every American with a cell phone

A nationwide “Shelter in Place” will severely hurt the economy in the short-term, but with it, we can get control over the spread of this deadly virus in the next two months and put the country back to work. That is what China is doing because it took control early. If we contain the virus by the end of May, the economic impact in the long run will be far less damaging than the piecemeal approaches being taken now. This is the only way we can get through this terrible crisis and limit its impact on the health of the American people.

President Trump: Take this action NOW.