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What Reopening the US Economy Could Look Like

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People are home and business owners and employees are itching to open, but are we ready? And how long before there’s economic recovery? 

Allison Nathan, senior strategist for Goldman Sachs Research and author of Top of Mind, one of Goldman’s most popular client publications, spoke to experts including Drs. Zeke Emanuel, Mark McClellan and Barry Bloom to get answers to that question.

We’ve highlighted some parts of her report here, but for the full experience check out the complete report on GoldmanSachs.com, as well as key takeaways in her recent Daily Check-In episode as well as the Top of Mind podcast.

Declining infections is a good sign, but it’s not the metric we need for businesses to reopen  

Seeing cases decline is good, but the takeaway from Nathan’s conversations is that much more needs to be considered. For example, Dr. Emanuel, Vice Provost for Global Initiatives, University of Pennsylvania, says in his interview that while seeing a downward trend in the number of cases and an ability of hospitals to take on patients are important when considering “triggers” for reopening the economy (the current guidelines) “the absolute level of infection is a more appropriate trigger. That’s because you could still have a high transmission rate even as the number of cases declines.”

And in order to determine where we are relative to these critical triggers, Nathan says, experts emphasize that “we must increase testing and particularly among the broader community in order to identify what we’ve all heard of as these asymptomatic carriers of the virus which can be spreaders, and we’re really not doing a great job of that right now.”

Businesses that help people keep their distance could reopen first

Nathan says the recommended phases are intuitive, with the experts she spoke to in agreement that “establishments that open first really should be the ones where we can maintain social distancing, we can avoid close contact, we can space out customers really much like we’re already doing with grocery stores today where only a handful of customers are being let in at a time.”

Emanuel says in the report that closer quarters, like ones you have in salons, don’t meet this criteria. 

“Non-essential businesses that require more intimate contact or where such contact is difficult to avoid – ranging, as I said, from salons to sporting events – should come later in the sequencing. And at the far end of it should come a relaxation of protections around vulnerable populations, like elderly people living in senior facilities” Emanuel says. 

Dr. McClellan, Director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University and FDA Commissioner in the George W. Bush White House, addressed this in his interview as well, saying, “we'd want to go more slowly with activities and businesses that involve people gathering closer together, such as bars and larger social events. And we’ll need extra steps for people who are at higher risk, such as older individuals, and people with serious co-morbidity conditions.”

Opening business is just one part of the economic puzzle; having places for children to go, such as school or camp, is also essential for parents to be able to return to work Nathan says, a point McCllelan touched on in his interview.

Reopening businesses and economic recovery aren’t the same thing

When brick-and-mortar businesses are closed, they can’t make money, so reopening them would seem to be a way to reverse this. Not so fast, says University of Pennsylvania’s Emanuel. He pointed out in his interview that businesses will need to contend with public fear of returning to public spaces. 

Nathan described it as such: “The problem is a demand-side one, being that people are afraid, afraid to go out because of health concerns. And if that is the case, just reopening stores and restaurants won’t lead to people filling them. And the more that’s the case, the longer the recovery could take.”

Expect to have shutdowns even after businesses reopen

Fending off the coronavirus is going to be a sustained effort, and reopening the economy likely isn’t going to be a one-and-done situation. Instead, we should be prepared for cycles of businesses shuttering and continued vigilance to contain the virus. 

“If we observe an uptick in cases or even an uptick in risk factors for cases that seem to reflect a weakness or flaw in our reopening process, we should quickly take at least incremental steps towards pausing or reversing course . . . we're definitely not out of the woods yet. We need a very high level of vigilance in order to pull back on reopening before the pandemic gets out of control again,” McClellan says in his interview.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.