As the coronavirus continues to devastate the economy, both in Tennessee and the country at large, leaders at all levels of government are in talks as to how to re-open the economy without putting American lives at risk.
On the state level, Gov. Bill Lee said he would like to re-open Tennessee’s economy in May, saying that “an open-ended economic shutdown is unsustainable for Tennessee families.” Democratic state leaders such as Mike Stewart say the quickest way to safely re-open the economy would be to expand Medicaid, halting the COVID-19 virus in its tracks.
After participating in a virtual meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty said the mostly likely scenario for the economy to re-open would be through a “regional rollout,” which, in Tennessee’s case, would see portions of the Volunteer State open before others based on factors like population density.
Beyond his goal to succeed incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander, who in 2018 announced he wouldn’t run in 2020, Hagerty is also the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and was instrumental in the adoption of the 2019 U.S.-Japan Trade Deal that saw the removal and lowering of Japanese tariffs on American agricultural exports.
Hagerty was also named on Tuesday as a member of President Donald Trump’s Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups (GAERIG), which is a collection of industry leaders tasked with navigating the American economy through the coronavirus pandemic.
After meeting with Trump and other industry leaders during the first virtual meeting of the GAERIG, broad discussions were held on how to balance re-opening the economy while keeping Americans safe.
“I think that’s the balancing act that the president is trying to deal with at a national level - I know Gov. Lee is trying to deal with it here in Tennessee, and every mayor and local official is worried about it as well,” Hagerty told the Home Page. “The health and safety of our citizens is critically important, but the economy is vital to our nation as well."
"The way [Trump] is looking at this, as he described it, was 50 pieces of the puzzle - 50 states."
Hagerty expanded on what that might look like for the state.
“The governors are going to work together to figure out what I think will turn out to be a regional approach, because some regions of the United States are affected much differently than others - same is true here in the state," he said.
“If you look at the larger density cities like Memphis and Nashville, you’ve got a much different situation than you do in some of our rural counties that have very few of these cases. So I think a regional rollout is the most likely outcome here.”
Hagerty explained that through his discussions with Trump and others, the “regional rollout” was likely the ideal way to balance Americans’ safety with the “very strong need” for “America to get back to work.”
Looking even further ahead, Hagerty said that even when regions of Tennessee and beyond do start to re-open for business, it won’t be business as usual.
“We're coming up right now with safety protocols so as people do go back to work, there are new protocols in place to sanitize the equipment that they're working on, to keep distance between workers wherever possible... there will be a set of protocols that will have this pandemic in mind so that we can come back to work as safely as we possibly can,” Hagerty said.
“The original aim of the shutdown was to flatten the curve. That was to avoid an overwhelming of our hospital system, and I think to date, we've done a good job of that. We've done a good job of avoiding the situation that erupted in Italy, where the hospitals were overwhelmed - that's been the first focus. The next focus then is how do we get back to work.”