Identifying those who could be passing along the virus to others in their communities could be key to containing the spread of the disease. (Image: Shutterstock)

What we're doing just doesn't cut it, but FDR-style programs of contact trace teams, at the community level but on a federal scale, could help the U.S. beat the coronavirus.

The Hill reports that some public health experts are calling for Roosevelt-size measures executed within communities to find all those who may have been exposed to the coronavirus so that they can be warned, further contacts traced and social distancing measures put into place. Identifying those who could be passing along the virus to others in their communities could be key to containing the spread of the disease.

Related: Terror charges await those deliberately trying to spread coronavirus

While such measures worked against Ebola in West Africa, and have been used effectively against the coronavirus in Iceland, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, as well as in Wuhan itself, at present the U.S. is far from employing teams to track down the spread of the virus. Indeed, a number of states still have no orders in place for residents to stay home and avoid contact with others, despite the continuing contagion.

Massachusetts is an exception, where Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, broke ranks with those holdouts among Republican governors who have not yet ordered people to stay home and away from others. In fact, last week, Baker announced that the state would work with non-profit Partners In Health to employ more contact tracers in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The effort, according to public health experts, is one that they want to see multiplied across the country. It would thus not only combat the coronavirus but also put people back to work on a large scale—no small benefit considering how many have been thrown out of work by the shutdown of the economy.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was no stranger to huge efforts, and his methods of putting the population back to work during the Great Depression and up to World War II through the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Both not only gave employment to nearly a tenth of unemployed Americans but gave them paychecks to keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables. According to The Hill, the WPA accounted for 6 percent of GDP in its first year, which equates to $1.3 trillion in current dollars.

According to public health experts, spending on that level would be well worth it to bring to an end the spread of coronavirus, which as of Sunday afternoon had already infected more than 332,000 and killed upwards of 9,500 in the U.S. alone.

"We need an army of contact tracers in every community in the United States to find every contact to warn them to take care of themselves and not to infect others," Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now runs the global health nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives, told The Hill. "Contact tracing is a core public health activity. It's bread and butter of public health."


Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.