Op-EdAppeared in Fox Business on May 11, 2020By Alfredo Ortiz and Jeff Colyer

Reopen America smartly, let small businesses jumpstart the economy

Decisions about how to keep customers from getting infected are better made by businesses

The coronavirus curve has flattened, but at immense cost to liberty and the American economy. The unemployment rate is 14.7 percent, the highest level since the Great Depression.

Small businesses, which employ roughly half the nation’s workforce, have been particularly hard hit, with about one-third closed down. Some will never reopen.

To prevent the coronavirus-induced economic recession from turning into a depression, society must intelligently reopen now. Doing so safely and protecting the most vulnerable will allow Americans to return to work and provide for their families. With personal consumption making up 70 percent of the economy, reopening will also protect the American dream.   We will not go back to January 2020 B.C. (Before COVID). Instead, we must chart a new course in a COVID world where Americans can still thrive and prosper.

If we use strategic testing, tracing, and smart business innovations, we can isolate the few to protect the many instead of isolating the many to protect the few. In fact, many commercial labs, which are often small businesses, could dramatically increase daily tests by the tens of thousands.

To prevent the coronavirus-induced economic recession from turning into a depression, society must intelligently reopen now.

For years businesses have used them for drug tests and other tests to protect their employees. For example, a small manufacturer can test and survey some of their employees regularly and solve a problem before it affects the whole community.

Each state and county must determine how to reopen based on its own unique circumstances. Rural counties with only a small number of cases shouldn’t have their reopening timelines lumped together with major cities where the virus is more widespread. We don’t have to blindly open or close. We can be smart.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happening in many states across the country. In California, for instance, 15 counties have recorded zero coronavirus deaths. Yet they are beholden to a state reopening timeline that’s based on the conditions in Los Angeles County, where there have been 1,500 deaths. Elected officials in several other counties where the virus isn’t widespread have made strong plans and requested the relaxation of stay at home orders.

In contrast, some states are following a smarter approach that’s localized, allowing for a broader reopening. Gov. Holcomb in Indiana is offering 30,000 free tests a day at 100 sites and will actively trace people at risk.

Or consider the tailored effort in Florida. Aside from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, which account for nearly half of the state’s coronavirus deaths, Gov. DeSantis has allowed the rest of the state to start reopening, offering a lifeline to small businesses and their employees. Other states should follow these bottom-up surgical approaches rather than the top-down draconian one.

While societal reopening will differ by county, some universal recommendations apply across the whole country. For instance, virtually all hospitals and independent surgical centers should reopen to non-coronavirus patients. Health care establishments were forced to halt “non-essential” services, hurting patients and providers alike. Reopening will save lives with much-needed procedures and allow rural hospitals to generate the revenue required to stay in business—and protect against COVID-19 in the future. On the other hand, there are universal safety protocols that can apply to all nursing homes, which are particularly vulnerable. Nursing homes account for more than a quarter of all coronavirus deaths nationwide and more than half in some states. Though the media suggests otherwise, we can reopen society and protect our most vulnerable at the same time.

Yet just because businesses are allowed to reopen does not mean that customers will show up. Local officials can decide when businesses can reopen, but it will be up to private industry to determine how to safely operate.

A successful recovery must stimulate demand by making people confident that they can work and live safely in a coronavirus world.

The American consumer is in a state of shellshock. A new poll finds that two-in-five Americans say they will avoid public spaces unless absolutely necessary. One-in-six say they will never be comfortable in public again. Businesses will have to demonstrate based on their unique virus-mitigation protocols that they are safe for their customers to return.  Decisions about how to keep customers from getting infected are better made by businesses, which have the in-depth knowledge of their industries to know the protocols needed. In contrast, government policy tends to prioritize one-size-fits-all solutions that are heavy-handed and rife with unintended consequences.    American small businesses are the most innovative and creative forces on the planet. They can reopen while keeping their customers safe. They can bring back the economy and end mass unemployment.

Government officials must now just permit them to do so.

Alfredo Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network. Gov. Jeff Colyer M.D. is a practicing physician who served as governor of Kansas.