The Exchange

Monday - Friday, 1:00 - 2:00 PM ET
The Exchange

Kelly Evans: Stop the uncertainty!

CNBC's Kelly Evans
CNBC

My neighbors are trying to sell their house. They listed it just before the coronavirus outbreak. Now that it's been sitting there for several weeks, they're planning to cut the price once "this thing" ends and people start looking at houses again. 

Those quotes are mine--and they are exactly the problem. What is "this thing" we are currently living under? We live in New Jersey, in an area that's had a relatively high number of cases. But are we under a "shelter-in-place," like California just declared? No. Are we under a county or statewide quarantine? No...we're basically living under "tightened restrictions" that are not quite as draconian as a shelter-in-place but seem to have more or less the same effect. And as a result, we have no idea when "this thing" will end.  

I said a couple weeks ago that when President Trump held his 9 p.m. national address about coronavirus, he should have used that opportunity to also announce an immediate two-week "national holiday" that would operate similar to a shelter-in-place. Instead, we're left with a piecemeal region-by-region approach with confusing terms and no end dates in sight. It's unlikely now that a two-week national "timeout" would even be enough, since the virus has spread so quickly. We're probably talking more like four weeks, as Bill Ackman has suggested, or even six.  

That's not nearly as bad as it sounds, because if we don't do something like that people are going to be left living under an unofficial "shelter-in-place" anyhow for potentially much longer with no end in sight. That's job-killing uncertainty which will completely undermine the trillions we are starting to spend to keep the economy going. If a business knows that "normal" is coming back soon, they'll try a lot harder to keep their staff and operations going. If they don't, the money coming in won't do much good.  

Declaring a national "shelter-in-place" for at least two weeks would also help get as much of the population tested for coronavirus as possible. In our area, the test results take two to five days to come back. We don't have enough tests for everyone to do it at once, which is why we'd need at least 14 days and probably longer than that to get the tests done and the hospital beds and equipment ready to treat everyone. (To be clear, a "shelter-in-place" exempts essential workers and services, which typically include "health care facilities, grocery stores, banks, media services, hardware stores, laundromats and delivery services," among others.)  

Temperature checks need to be rolled out at the same time, for the same reason (especially while tests are still hard to get). Every workplace, grocery store, you name it should be testing people's temperature on the way in. That's how the New York Stock Exchange identified two workers who ultimately tested positive for coronavirus. Anyone with a fever at least knows to stay home and self-quarantine and get tested for coronavirus immediately--which happens much more quickly once you have a fever.  

And it would also be time to get the plan for our "new normal" ready, which should be based on Balaji Srinivasan's plan for "green zones." Basically, it's a color-coding system that goes by the population percentage in a given region that has tested positive for coronavirus. Green zones are those almost free of coronavirus, which can carry on business as usual--which is key for getting the economy up and running again quickly. Red zones are those that still need to shelter-in-place until their case count comes down. And like I said the other day, wearing face masks (NOT N95 masks, which health workers desperately need, just plain old "procedure" masks) makes sense while in public for now.  

So yes, our "new normal" for awhile could include temperature checks and face masks. But these are tiny inconveniences compared with the potentially catastrophic health and economic damage coronavirus might otherwise wreak.  

Stop the uncertainty. That will prove much worse for the U.S. economy than any temporary "shelter-in-place." It's time to declare one (with the aforementioned plan for back to "normal") now.  

See you at 1 p.m...

Kelly

Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans