Sen. Cassidy’s Simple and Very Good Idea for Re-Opening the Country
Cassidy, a gastroenterologist with a history of dealing with infectious disease, worked diligently in private practice in Louisiana to expand hepatitis B vaccinations to 36,000 children — an effort that made him intimately familiar with the way immunization “registries” work inside the United States. Faced today with the threat of COVID-19, he asked himself a simple question: Was there a way to apply the lessons of his success fighting hepatitis in Louisiana to a nation fighting a new threat for which there is not yet a vaccine? As it turns out, there was — and Cassidy leaned on that experience to help point the way toward a comprehensive effort to reopen the American economy, safely.
To understand Cassidy’s proposal, you need a cursory understanding of immunization. Today, policymakers are focused primarily on expanding testing around the country — and that’s important. But beyond being useful in identifying who is sick and should therefore be quarantined, we need to know who among us is immune to the virus — that is, who can safely travel through society without worrying about becoming ill or infecting others. Immunization is a person’s “get-out-of-social-distancing pass.” And until a vaccine is widely available, knowing who is and who is not immune could be key to determining who — which barbers, teachers, cooks, bus drivers, and more — can go back work.
If those carrying the virus interact only with individuals who are already immune, the virus can’t spread. But we can’t begin to reopen the economy without knowing who is on the list. Having seen hepatitis B herd immunity emerge in Louisiana in part because those who had received the vaccine were added to a registry, Cassidy simply applied the same principle to COVID-19. Knowing that the federal government is perfectly equipped to set up a registry that both protects individual privacy and speeds the nation’s economic recovery — national childhood immunity registries already exist — he wrote a bill. It’s a simple and innovative idea — and one that both Democrats and Republicans should be able to support.
The point here is not simply that Cassidy is doing exactly what we want our leaders to do — namely, applying his expertise to the challenges at hand. It’s that solutions to the current crisis, not to mention nearly any other, need not be partisan — they need simply to be practical. Ideology need not guide those solving problems. Good ideas, like Cassidy’s, can simply emerge from common sense.
But there’s a second lesson as well. Cassidy’s proposal deserves as much or even more attention than the bickering that seems always to be center stage.