Sen. Micheal Bergstrom

It's time to prepare our state and nation for a COVID-19 recovery. If we don’t, we risk destroying our economy and local businesses.

It’s been a little more than a month since the first positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Oklahoma. Since then, much of our economy has come to a screeching halt for the safety of our citizens.

The virus is extremely contagious and can be very deadly, especially for those older than 65 or with underlying health issues. So keeping our citizens safe must remain the top priority.

But should the cure be worse than the illness?

Our country and state are on a slippery slope to a recession—or worse. Unemployment records have been shattered. More than 50,000 Oklahomans filed claims for unemployment last week. Prior to the outbreak, the record weekly high was 9,778 claims. Before mid-March, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission typically processed 1,500 to 2,000 claims per week.

We must plan NOW for our recovery.

While it is important to keep everyone safe and healthy, hiding out in our homes and keeping our businesses closed is not a long-term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve shared warnings about how dangerous this disease is, and my opinion on this has not changed. But we also need to find a better way to move forward as soon as possible. We must recharge our economy—sooner rather than later.

Phased In Approach

The question is how: do we get there?

A phased in approach is probably a good idea. I was pleased to hear Governor Stitt say this past week that he is developing a plan to get the state’s economy up and running as fast as possible since the modeling is showing that Oklahoma has been very successful at “flattening the curve.” He announced that hospitals may begin performing elective surgeries on April 24.

It makes sense to allow businesses that have been deemed “non-essential” to institute social distancing and preventative measures and reopen if that is possible. In areas of the state where infections have been low or non-existent, he should consider modifying his restrictions.

A few days ago, I listened to Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, offer a plan to get the country recovering. Calling his proposal “Box It In,” in a nutshell, his plan has four steps: test widely, isolate the infected, locate those who have had close contact with the infected, and self-quarantine anyone who has come in contact with a positive COVID-19 patient for two weeks.

This may sound like what we are currently doing, but there is one difference: once we have expanded accurate testing, we urge those who are not infected to go back to work and/or open their businesses.

We must continue to practice social distancing.

We must continue preventative measures like cleaning surfaces frequently with disinfectants and washing hands.

Those who are the most vulnerable to serious illness from the virus should continue to be careful and self-isolate for the time being.

BUT–this is a way forward for those of us who are able to work.

Testing

Unfortunately, we don’t have wide enough testing yet for Frieden’s plan to be successful.

Still, progress is being made, and when antibody tests ramp up, we will be able to tell not only who is infected with the virus, but also who has recovered from the virus–often without even knowing they had it.

Moving forward

So perhaps what we need is a combination of the steps I mentioned earlier for the businesses where safe practices can most quickly be instituted, then as testing improves implement a “Box It In” approach so we can get every business open.

Most Oklahomans are taking this seriously. Most realize the death rate, especially for the elderly and those with existing health issues, is far worse than the seasonal flu. But I also believe most Oklahomans know the current shutdown cannot and should not last any longer than absolutely necessary. Oklahomans want to get back to work.

We should start planning to re-open our businesses. I am encouraged by the data and by the Governor’s latest statements that Oklahoma will soon be moving toward getting our economy up and running and hopefully become a model for other states across the country.

By Senator Micheal Bergstrom

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