Sean Hackbarth Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


October 29, 2020


Over seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like it will never end. But we have learned much since the pandemic began in the spring. We can stop the spread, limit deaths and suffering, and prevent job-crushing lockdowns. Those were the key takeaways from the U.S. Chamber event, No Crystal Ball: Keeping America Safe & Open.

“We have a choice,” said Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber. “This can be either a light switch or a dial. A light switch was catastrophic for small businesses and families all across this country in the spring. And if we use the dial approach—if we use masks, if we help people get flu shots—we can avoid the catastrophic outcomes again.”

Lessons from Europe

Europe was hit hard early in the pandemic, explained Marjorie Chorlins, senior vice president for European Affairs at the U.S. Chamber. In response countries like Italy and France experienced nationwide shutdowns. These were then followed by measures to reinvigorate their economies. Unfortunately for them, the number of COVID-19 cases has surged and restrictions are being imposed again.

What lessons can we learn from Europe?

  • Masks along with social distancing and handwashing are key
  • Effective testing and tracing efforts are essential
  • Leaders must be honest in communicating the situation their countries are in
  • Coordination between national and local officials is critical
  • Total lockdowns aren’t inevitable. European countries are allowing schools to stay open

“The virus thrives on complacency,” said Chorlins. “Maintaining and enforcing strict defenses is key to crushing and containing the spread of COVID-19.”

Businesses’ critical role

Over the past six months, U.S. Chamber President Suzanne Clark has talked to scientists, public health experts, and business leaders about the pandemic and responsibly reopening in her Path Forward series of conversations.

“It’s a really scary time,” said Clark. “At the same time, I’ve been lucky to interview these 20 experts, and every single one of them is optimistic that we get to the other side, that we develop a vaccine, that we develop therapeutics.”

Businesses play an important role in preventing future economic shutdowns. Clark noted they can be leaders in their communities by “helping their customers and employees feel safe by modeling mask wearing and by modeling social distancing and signage.”

“Everything that businesses can do to instill confidence in their communities—that it’s okay to be out as long as your following these guidelines” will keep our economy open, she added. “Science is going to save us, but the role businesses have in getting us to the other side is really gigantic.”

Lessons from local governments

On the ground, local leaders have learned much since the pandemic began. One lesson involved the tools used.

“The most important tool is communication,” said Jennifer Daniels, former mayor or Gilbert, AZ. “Daily communications with our hospital teams with our health care workers with our faith groups with our chamber with our business community.”

Stephen Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, SC, agreed: “Frequent, predictable communication is essential. You’ve got to communicate with folks, especially early in the pandemic.”

Employing data is also critical. Benjamin stressed the importance of testing for the virus. “Testing gives you data. Data gives you intelligence. Intelligence allows you to make good, informed public policy decisions,” he said.

Refining data is important. “Continuing to develop the data set that was going to get us the best information was critically important,” said Daniels.

Another lesson was the importance of standing up efforts to get community members to wear masks. Gilbert launched a community mask campaign that became a “unified, community effort,” said Daniels.

In Columbia, “the city stepping up and putting a mask ordinance in place gave [businesses] a great deal of cover, allowing them to continue in commerce without having to draw the ire of their citizens,” said Benjamin.

Importance of flu shots

As the winter season comes, the combination of the flu season on top of COVID-19 could be crushing to our economy as well as to individuals.

If we have the same number of flu cases this year as we did last year, “at the same time as we have this tremendous increase in the number of COVID cases it will put an undue burden on an already exhausted and fatigued health care system,” explained Steven Anderson, President and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

The best way to prevent this duel contagion is for all Americans to get a flu shot.

“Flu shots are critical this season,” said Carolyn Cowley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “The doses are ready, pharmacists are ready, but the trouble is an alarming number of Americans don’t get their flu shot every year, and we’ve got to change that.”

Not only will getting a flu shot prevent sickness and reduce strains on the health care system, it lays the groundwork for COVID-19 vaccines when available.

Economic reopening and recovery depend on it, explained Anderson: “We will never open this economy quickly and fully unless 1) they get their flu shot and 2) get their COVID shot when the vaccines are available.”

What we can do

Here are the preventative measures each one of us can take:

  • Wear a mask
  • Keep your distance
  • Wash your hands
  • Get a flu shot

At the same time, as business and government leaders, “each of us in our businesses and in our communities can take steps to slow the spread,” Bradley explained.

  • Encourage and facilitate employees to get a flu shot
  • Ensure that mask policy (including mandatory mask policy) is the early community intervention. “If we want to avoid lockdowns, we have to act early and this is the easiest thing we can do to control the spread,” said Bradley.
  • Plan ahead with local officials about phased approaches communities will take to any social distancing requirements

“The future is in our hands,” said Bradley. “As leaders in our own communities let’s make sure we can control our destiny, that we control this pandemic, and that we turn the corner–both in our economy and in public health.”

About the authors

Sean Hackbarth

Sean Hackbarth

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.

Read more