COVID-19 impacts everyone. In the last week, we’ve seen blanket rollbacks of regulations, massive spending proposals and wholesale reform agendas––all in the name of containment and stimulus.

We are fascinated.

And we are worried.

And we have some questions that nearly all other Americans are asking:

How will our lives change now? Later? What can public policy do? What should the private sector do? How should communities react? What shouldn’t we do? What can we learn from history? What ideas matter? Which should not?

R Street remains firm and resolved. Our mission continues. Our work goes on. We are part of the conversation. And we want to help our country.

As such, our experts and scholars across every issue area have been rapidly responding to the situation with new policy ideas and commentary. Below, we have gathered our scholars’ best ideas and commentary related to Coronavirus.

We’re all in this together. And we hope our thoughts and ideas can help.

-Eli Lehrer, President

*Updated April 13, 2020

Coronavirus and Public Policy

Article: How to Help Save the Food and Drink Industry During a Pandemic, Jarrett Dieterle, Nick Zaiac, Ray Lehmann

“None of these changes should be seen as standalone silver bullets that will entirely insulate the food and drinks industry from the current crisis. But they are straightforward, readily available policy tools that could ease at least some of the pain. Lawmakers and government officials should start pursuing these options immediately. If they do not, a collapse really could be imminent.”

Article: Why Don’t We Have Enough Doctors Right Now? Blame the Process, Jonathan Bydlak

“The United States is long overdue for a difficult conversation about how to best prioritize funding for the medical field. But the solution to the supply problem should be easy: start prioritizing the expansion of residency opportunities as much as the number and capacity of medical schools themselves.

All Americans who are willing and able to become doctors should be able to do so, and no organization – public or private – should prevent them from doing so. As the latest coronavirus crisis shows, our very health and wellbeing may depend on it.”

Opinion: Fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, Shoshana Weissmann, The Washington Examiner

“There is no shortage of ways to shore up America’s readiness for future disasters. Permanent changes now can help during this pandemic and more so during future ones. Many of these reforms have been overlooked or cast aside as trivial, but they are vital to making sure we are prepared for anything.”

Opinion: Why State and Local Governments Are So Vital to Our Coronavirus Response, Andy Smarick, The Dispatch

“Everyone wants a measure of control over their own lives and to be able to help shape their communities. Decentralization offers that by providing efficacy and agency—a sense that we can make a difference and the tools to do so. But in a highly diverse, continental republic like the United States, decentralization is even more important. Our citizens and their associations will always possess a vast array of needs and priorities. Close-to-home decision-making maximizes our capacity to have government action reflect this diversity.”

Report: The federal government’s coronavirus response—Public health timeline, Philip Wallach, The Brookings Institution

“Here, we attempt to present an initial record of the federal government’s important official actions and communications over the past months, with a particular emphasis on the rules, regulation, and guidance related to the public health challenge. We do not claim comprehensiveness—rather, we seek to document new and notable developments and actions during the critical early period of the worldwide spread of the virus. Nor do we attempt to track the extensive actions meant to cope with the economic fallout of the virus. Following the timeline, we briefly outline four phases of crisis response and highlight some of the most important apparent failures.”

Opinion: Why the cash bail system will make the coronavirus pandemic much worse, Lars Trautman, The Washington Examiner

“The burdens of cash bail do not spread evenly across our communities. Disproportionately, our criminal justice system ensnares minorities and the poor. This will further hamper our economic response to the coronavirus by concentrating the economic drag of cash bail on a smaller subset of communities and removing money from the pockets of those least able to weather lost paychecks. In a complex, interconnected economy, the financial ramifications of this loss of spending will ripple out to even seemingly unrelated areas.”

Opinion: Economic Nationalism Will Make COVID Worse, Clark Packard, The Bulwark

“Diversifying supply chains of pharmaceuticals makes sense, but returning massive amounts of production to the United States will dramatically raise the costs of such drugs, further straining government and household budgets. At a time when a growing bipartisan chorus is calling for lower drug prices, this proposal would do the opposite.”

Opinion: How Much Privacy Are You Entitled to During a Pandemic? Kathryn Waldron, Slate’s Future Tense

“The willingness of countries like the United States, Israel, and South Korea to increase surveillance in these extraordinary times is concerning, because it pushes the boundaries of current norms regarding acceptable limits of government’s surveillance of its own citizens in democratic nations. And limits on government, once eradicated, are often difficult to reinstate.”

Opinion: We Oppose Nearly Every Government Insurance Program. We Could Support One for Pandemics. Ray Lehmann, The Insurance Journal

“Over the eight years of our existence, the R Street Institute has offered critiques of government-backed entities that provide insurance or reinsurance for flood, crop, windstorm, earthquake, auto, workers’ comp, nuclear energy liability and terrorism. We have warned that such entities almost inevitably misprice risk, foment moral hazard and displace private capital.

Given that, and given recent discussions in public policy circles and on Capitol Hill about the potential to create a federal program for “pandemic insurance,” one might expect we would be leading the opposition.

We are not. In fact, we think the idea has merit.”

Watch: R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle on Delivery Industry Expanding Contract Workers during COVID-19 Outbreak

Opinion: Coronavirus shows why good budgeting matters, Jonathan Bydlak, The Hill

“We are currently being reminded that real contingencies and real emergencies exist, and the government must spend more when disaster strikes. We do not know what’s going to happen with Coronavirus, what it’s going to do to our economy or whether currently discussed measures will be enough. What we do know is that economic shocks like this one will happen in the future, and it’s nearly impossible to deal with them when we’re already up to our eyeballs in debt.”

Watch: Is the U.S. government doing enough to battle the Coronavirus outbreak?

Opinion: Conservatives need to get behind vote-by-mail options in 2020 election, Eli Lehrer, The Washington Times

“A broader switch to mail-in voting deserves exploration. If staunchly conservative Utah can make the switch to vote-by-mail, as it will do this year, other right-leaning states should consider it. Such systems save money, don’t require anyone to wait in line, don’t require disrupting activities in public buildings and are essentially immune from large-scale fraud. Furthermore, many voter intimidation tactics become impossible when everyone can vote in the privacy of their own homes.”

Opinion: Home delivery can save craft alcoholic beverage producers, Jarrett Dieterle, The Washington Examiner

“Even in a pandemic-free world, allowing alcohol delivery would be a win-win that helps both producers and consumers. In an era where you can get nearly any product under the sun delivered to your door within a few hours, it makes little sense to exclude alcohol. In the coming months and years, craft beverage producers and retailers, and consumers desiring a stiff drink as they’re cooped up at home, may come to depend on it.”

Opinion: Open the telehealth floodgates to combat coronavirus, Courtney Joslin and Shoshana Weissmann, The Washington Examiner

“While the country is facing a dire public health crisis, these are a few small changes that have the potential to make a big impact and ease the strain on the medical system. Policymakers should make sure now more than ever that medical professionals can exercise their professional autonomy to the fullest extent — so that millions can access the healthcare they will soon desperately need.”

Opinion: Rein in the Regs to Beat Coronavirus, Shoshana Weissmann, The Bulwark

“Now is the time for states to lead the way in small regulatory reforms that will encourage residents to remain safe, while also having access to supplies and life-saving medical care. And when the crisis has eased, we must evaluate whether some of these regulations were ever necessary in the first place.”

Article: Small Regulatory Reforms That Can Help People During the Pandemic, R Street Blog Post

“While the federal and state governments figure out the appropriate way to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, there are plenty of narrow regulatory reforms they can implement to help people deal with the fallout. This is not to say that regulatory reform is the only solution, but it can be helpful as people struggle to access medical care and food.”

Watch: James Wallner on Congressional Operations During Coronavirus, C-Span

Article: How The Alcohol Industry is Dealing with Covid-19 (and How the Government Can Help), Jarrett Dieterle,

“As Covid-19 roils America and the world, much of the focus has been on how small businesses can survive in an environment of extreme social distancing and self-quarantining. Alcohol producers and retailers—such as breweries, distilleries, and bars—have been particularly hurt by virtue of the fact that many of them are gathering-oriented businesses that make the majority of their sales through their taprooms or dining rooms. At the same time, many Americans are finding themselves shut-in at home and no doubt desiring a refreshing beverage.

Given these dynamics, how is the alcohol industry handling Covid-19? Here’s a roundup of the virus’s impact on alcohol and how entrepreneurial beverage makers are responding—as well as suggestions for how the government can help.”

Opinion: Why the Coronavirus Should Force Reform at Immigrant Detention Centers, Jonathan Haggerty, The National Interest

“The novel coronavirus has revealed the glaring government failure that is the immigrant detention apparatus. Similar to failed prisons and jails, these facilities are fiscally wasteful, make communities less safe, and trample on constitutional liberties. Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to reform these facilities not only to contain the current crisis, but to prevent future ones.”

Article: Four Municipal Transportation Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nick Zaiac, R Street Blog

“As the reality of the coronavirus pandemic sets in, it’s all hands on deck for American policymakers. And no level of government has more hands than our municipalities. Our response to this crisis will reflect the strength of our local governing capacity. It will stress every aspect of local government, from school boards to water authorities. Local transportation officials are no different: They have a role to play in adapting local road assets to the new logistical needs of towns in the midst of a public health crisis. Road space will need to be reallocated, parking rules adjusted, health precautions added to transit, and delivery rules made more liberal.”

Watch: No, members of Congress who are self-quarantined for coronavirus cannot vote remotely, James Wallner, WUSA 9 News

Opinion: Why free markets are the best antidote to coronavirus, Steven Greenhut, Orange County Register

“Countries with freer markets are most resilient in times of crisis. They have the best supply chains and the widest availability of food, medicine and other crucial sustenance. They also are the wealthiest nations. It’s not about survival of the fittest, but citizens in market-based countries are more fit to provide for themselves than those where government controls the economy.

Unlike socialists, libertarians don’t have an instantaneous, magic solution to the novel coronavirus. But we do know that people in America will weather this public-health storm thanks to a system that still promotes creativity, ingenuity and enterprise.”

Opinion: Planning for Coronavirus, Paul Rosenzweig, Lawfare

“During the George W. Bush administration, while I served in the Department of Homeland Security as the deputy assistant secretary for policy, we undertook a government-wide effort to figure out the right response to potential outbreaks of avian flu (a type of flu transmitted by poultry or birds that was running rampant in Asia at the time). Looking at how that problem was evaluated offers some idea of the complexity of the questions that the government needs to address in a pandemic response.”

Quote: ‘This is going to be a very big deal’ — coronavirus poised to disrupt storage, solar sectors, Josiah Neeley, Utility Dive

“The impacts of the virus on China’s power sector depend on how long the outbreak continues and how far it spreads, Josiah Neeley, senior fellow of energy policy at the R Street Institute, told Utility Dive. If it continues for more than a few weeks or spreads to more of China, it could have a significant impact on Chinese economic output across the board. But a major disruption in the U.S. power sector isn’t likely, since electricity generation comes from either domestic or non-Chinese sources, like coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewable energy.

A 10% reduction in battery capacity is unlikely to lead to a major disruption unless the virus spreads and causes serious outbreaks in other countries, Neeley said.

‘Right now, there are various ways that [that reduction] could be made up: either sourcing from other countries… or later, after the outbreak is over, ramping up production —​ or just eating the delays,’ he said.”

Quote: Governments Face Trade-Offs on Privacy in Fight Against Coronavirus, Kathryn Waldron, Coindesk

“This is not a time for employers to opportunistically collect additional information about their employees or to introduce employee surveillance measures.

“Government surveillance isn’t a new phenomenon to Chinese citizens,” says Waldron. “China’s Social Credit Score system already used facial recognition technology and nearly omnipresent surveillance to manage people’s daily lives and individuals with insufficient scores have already been denied the ability to travel on occasion, long before COVID-19 was a threat. Rolling out additional surveillance measures now isn’t radically new behavior.”

Quote: Coronavirus vaccines should be fast-tracked by the FDA, Chelsea Boyd, Washington Examiner

“The R Street Institute’s Chelsea Boyd, an epidemiologist who researches harm reduction, told me she wasn’t so keen on Singer’s idea of a ‘right to try’ approach to the vaccine.

‘I have mixed feelings about that,’ Boyd said, ‘just because [the coronavirus] is not an assured death even for at-risk populations. And when you give vaccines to immunocompromised folks, who are often not eligible for standard clinical trials, well … that’s risky.’

She warned the same populations at risk for coronavirus are also at risk for taking risky medications.

However, Boyd explained that one option worth considering is the ‘emergency use authorization’ process established under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013. This process permits the FDA to allow ‘unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions … when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.’”

Image credit: Axel_Kock

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