- - Thursday, April 2, 2020

We need to protect the health and safety of our fellow Americans. And we need to prepare to get our country back to work. Protecting the health of our country now will help us restore the health of our economy later.

We must continue to bend the curve. Everyone absolutely has to do their part to help reduce the rate of transmission of coronavirus in our community.

Stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to leave your home. Clean your hands with soap and water regularly. Cough and sneeze into a tissue and throw it away. Clean surfaces multiple times a day. And most importantly, stay at home if you are sick.

If all Americans respect these simple requests, we can decrease the rate at which new people are becoming infected by the coronavirus. Bending the curve is essential to getting Americans back to work.

We must be planning to reopen the economy even as we fight to protect the health of every American. Once it is safe, we must implement a transition plan to allow businesses to reopen with extreme caution.

Manufacturing companies should be some of the first to come back online. Each site must keep areas where people congregate closed, such as limiting breaks and meals to areas assigned to each individual worker. Entrances should be measured so employees are staying at least six feet from one another. The same is true for restrooms. Cleaning crews should routinely disinfect worksites throughout the day. Business communications should internally reinforce the guidelines.

Businesses should also be encouraged to keep work-at-home options available for as many employees as possible for the foreseeable future. The administrative staff that return to work must use safe practices like keeping at least six feet from one another.

Retail locations should be encouraged to put up signage for approximate spacing (at least 6 feet) near places where customers assemble, such as checkout lanes, pharmacy desks, deli orders, etc. Employees should be assigned to monitor the store and remind people to stay a safe distance from each other.

Governments should suspend or remove restrictions on small businesses that limit their ability to provide goods and services. Employers are going to be looking for unique ways to re-enter the marketplace.

At the same time, the country must be prepared to handle another wave in the levels of people infected with the virus. Medical staff must be provided with appropriate levels of equipment, including ventilators, as well as masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE). An adequate number of tests must be provided all across America.

Restaurants should continue to provide take-out or delivery services. Citizens should be encouraged to order from these restaurants. Eventually, restaurants should be able to transition into onsite service with space restrictions.

Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions should continue to limit their exposure by staying at home as much as possible until further notice. Grocery stores, drug stores/pharmacies, health clinics and medical offices should provide specific hours of operation reserved for these customers.

The federal government should continue restrictions on foreign travel. Until we know that the coronavirus is under control, we should not allow others to come into the country.

To help people transition back into the workforce, financial institutions should defer up to six months of mortgage payments. Historically, deferrals have been made in limited cases for situations like a military deployment. They do not write off the payments, just defer them to the end of the life of the loan. This does not require action from the government. It would, however, provide peace of mind for those Americans who lost employment or income during the past few weeks.

Getting people back to work is only possible if everyone follows the precautions. Failure to refrain from being close to others in the workforce will likely lead to the return of “stay at home” orders. That would likely lead to a major recession. We cannot let that happen. Therefore, everyone must do their part. Follow the guidelines and save lives.

Before we can begin a transition back to work, however, we must all do our part to slow the increase in the number of people who are infected by the coronavirus. Success in fighting this pandemic will allow Americans to eventually get back to work.

We can save our economy and our workers if we can do a good job with the transition. This will require everyone to do their part and continue to operate with an appropriate level of caution. In doing so, we can protect the health and safety of our fellow Americans while protecting the health of the U.S. economy. We can and must do both, but it can only be done with support from every American.

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at swalker@washingtontimes.com or follow him @ScottWalker.

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