Get America Working Again

By Don Rosenberg 4/13/2020

As President Trump said, the decision of when Americans can get back to work is going to be one of the hardest he’s made in his life. I decided to explore the complex series of factors about people, localities and industries that determine when a particular business should be able to open in various parts of the country to different types of people.

I think there are a lot of parallels between the coronavirus outbreak and a wildfire. You decide how to fight the fire based on location – is it isolated and unimportant, or highly populated? You look at the fuel source – is it a tinderbox, ready to ignite, or is fuel not readily available? You look at weather conditions – is it dry, hot and windy, or is a rainstorm on the way?

These factors are used to decide to let a small fire burn itself out, send in air drop teams to put it out immediately, or contain the fire by using firebreaks and letting certain areas burn. After the main fire is over, you go back to make sure it doesn’t reignite.

Applying this approach to a viral outbreak, this is what I came up with…

Industries and businesses

Is the service… 1. Essential 2. Important 3. Not important

Can their services be performed… 1. Mostly on line  2. Somewhat on line  3. Only in person

Is their risk level… 1. Easy to mitigate 2. Partially easy to mitigate 3. Difficult to mitigate



Are they…

  1. Immune
  2. Untested, but healthy
  3. Tested and not infected or a carrier
  4. Tested and a symptom-free carrier
  5. Tested and infected

Are they… 1. Young and healthy 2. Older and healthy 3. Older and high-risk

It would be easy to set up a phone app to securely share your status, and where you are on the list determines what you can access.

Clearly people who are infected should be self-quarantined, and people who are high risk should minimize their outside movements.


Cities, counties and states

Do they have…

  1. A very low number of cases
  2. Moderate cases and improving
  3. Moderate cases and getting worse
  4. A high number of cases


So if you were to score an industry, you might run them through the list and come up with a figure.

For a hair salon you might say…

They are 3. Not important

Their services can be performed… 3. Only in person

Their risk level… 3.  Difficult to mitigate

You might conclude that it would be possible to open up hair salons to workers who are tested as immune and customers who are tested as immune, but since it’s a confined space with people working closely, it makes little sense to open hair salons nationwide.


For a college you might say…

They are… 2. Important

Their services can be performed… 1.  Mostly on line

Their risk level… 3.  Difficult to mitigate

You might conclude that colleges should continue to run classes on line only.


The key to all of this is the availability of testing, both to see if someone has the virus and is contagious or if they’ve had the virus and are now immune and not contagious.

Testing should be prioritized depending on the importance of the industry. Hospital workers, restaurant workers, police, and anyone who is in contact with the public on a regular basis would go first. People in the most essential industries would follow, working down through the list.

Close monitoring will need to be practiced to make sure that we don’t start the curve moving in the wrong direction.

As various localities move down their infection curve, their priorities should shift from containment – self-quarantining people with symptoms and hospitalizing those with complications, to putting out new fires by tracking the contacts of those who have been infected.

I am sure that there are brighter minds than mine trying to work this out. As people concerned with the future health of our nation and its economy, we need to be supportive of systematic approaches that logically determine who, what, where and when different industries and businesses need to be restarted.

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