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Re-opening a nightclub in New York seems crazy at this point, as that’s just the kind of setting in which Covid-19 can spread like wildfire. But it wouldn’t be crazy if all of the workers and patrons had previously had Covid-19 and recovered from it.

Someday soon there will be millions of people in the U.S. who have recovered from Covid-19. The best evidence suggests that they can’t get infected again soon and won’t infect others by shedding the virus.

That suggests a path to run essential services more safely and to reopen sectors of the economy faster than would otherwise be possible. New York, Washington, California, and other states with high caseloads should rush to set up credible, verifiable, and voluntary programs to identify individuals as “certified recovered” from Covid-19. Researchers in Germany have recently proposed a similar program there.


Federal policymakers are currently being pulled in two directions. One is to close much of the economy and shelter people at home to limit the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. But we all recoil at the economic and human devastation this creates, so Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package geared mostly to keep the economy open and stimulate demand. Yet demand is hard to stimulate when so many things are closed, and it is dangerous to stimulate in ways that increase social contact and spread the virus.

Creating a path for the certified recovered from Covid-19 reduces the tension between jump-starting the economy and letting the virus run rampant.


Certification could begin by drawing on existing tests and hospital records, starting with individuals who already had both a positive test and matching symptoms. Now that fast antibody and viral tests have FDA approval, new testing will pick up speed. If certification piggybacks on such tests, the U.S. could create a substantial and vital new specialized labor force of the certified recovered in the short term.

Although no one knows with absolute certainty if people with antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can be re-infected by it, immunity to the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) lasted two years. For SARS-CoV-2, monkeys infected with SARS-CoV-2 are known to have developed immunity. And according to Martin Hibberd, an infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, people who have recovered “are unlikely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 again.”

These early indications justify starting now to build a certification system. We urgently need to get as many people safely back to work as possible.

Certified recovered people could take up frontline contact positions in medicine and retail to make operations safer. They could work with the elderly and the vulnerable. Certified recovered persons could also work in food preparation. A service that prepared and delivered food only with recovered people would be quite popular. Buses on routes going to hospitals could be driven by recovered drivers. Possibilities abound as trust rebuilds. Just knowing that more and more people have beaten the virus and are back to work would be an immense boost to confidence.

To be sure, health conditions are a private matter, and no one should be forced to certify themselves. That said, demand by individuals to be voluntarily tested and certified could be intense.

The program would be ideal if it allowed undocumented workers to participate without fear or risk. It was cruel to leave them out of the stimulus support. It was also unwise from a public health perspective, as undocumented families will be forced to join an underground economy and work in defiance of local shelter-in-place ordinances, thereby endangering everyone.

One concern is that the uninfected could face job discrimination in certain jobs once a system for verifying the certified recovered is created. Recently reissued guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, suggests that the commission sees such discrimination as acceptable. If immunity is important to safely perform a job, then giving preference to those who are certified as recovered is justified, particularly in our present emergency. Getting more people working safely is paramount.

Quickly creating a certification system could speed economic recovery while slowing the virus. And perhaps the certified recovered, after working all day for the rest of us, could safely enjoy dancing the night away.

Aaron Edlin is a visiting scholar at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and professor of economics and law at UC Berkeley. Bryce Nesbitt is a co-founder of NextBus, a public transit information company.

  • Legal immigrants are included.
    Undocumented workers/ illegal immigrants should impose more weight on us, tax payers?
    It’s a great time for our “Opens Boarder Socialist Democrat Politicians” to apologize and send those who are here “illegally” home. Please include a FREE coronavirus test kit. (Another freebie from us😷 tax payers).
    UC Berkeley should apology to you. 🥳🤯

  • A certificate of immunity would present such tremendous advantages economically to an individual that the non-immune would be lining up to get infected. Seems rather pathological.

    • You’re not understanding the point, they’re not talking about those who have just recovered, although even those could participate if they pass the testing protocol, but it’s for those who are already out of the infectious stage. You know that’s usually no more than 5-10 days on average, right?

  • Roughly 1 in 3500 people will be infected. Of those, not all recovered and not all are working age. How does that small number of people restart the economy?

    I know. Throw in a plug for illegal aliens not getting stimulus checks. Congratulations. Your target audience has to be so stupid, they would not be able to functionally read your article.

    Hopefully whoever pays you, did the same math I did. You should be fired for negligent use of common sense and wasting people’s time.

  • Haven’t thought about Aaron Edlin in years. I think I was in his Econ 121 class at the exact time OJ was acquitted, so that would be 25 year ago.

    The problem for the intellectual class is that they never get how the real world works. All the globalist intellectuals who talk about comparative advantage and gains from trade have ZERO appreciated for the soul-destroying aspects of this. Nobody likes Andrew Yang’s dystopia or the one we are currently living through. Alan Krueger killed himself after attending a conference that touched on UBI. Being a shut-in relying on checks from the government is AWFUL and those of us who work from a laptop shouldn’t lose sight of that.

    So this parlor game of “certified immunity” is just a game for the intellectual class, who will continue to live in their nice house, drive their nice cars, and have their status as Rome burns.

    We need to throw caution to the wind a bit on the trials of potential treatments. The vaccine timetable is also total BS as I believe the 12-18 months about as much as I believe the Imperial College estimates. Starting at some point in May we need sensible approaches to risk mitigation (mandatory mask and limited contact workspaces for a couple months). People that can work from home can continue to do that for awhile, but the country has to get back to work if we don’t wish to destroy our sense of humanity…with all of its vulnerabilities.

    I have a 17 year old kid. He just missed his high school soccer season, he missed prom, he’s having his childhood stolen from him, and his education and future are an after-thought to the grown-ups for whom these months are nothing more than dancing in a NY nightclub.

    Have you ever been 17? I have and I remember vividly having a conversation on that last day of HS about what the “end” means. Everything me and my best friends (still) on the planet thought on that last day of high school is true. All of it.

    I’m not going to stand silent and let that be taken from him because we can’t figure out a “science problem”. People that are vulnerable need to take steps to protect themselves, and those of us who are really to live should be able to do so.

    I saw another article on here about “near zero” deaths and I knew that is exactly where this conversation would devolve. Is it a peak or a gradually declining plateau….yada yada…

    The UW model is terrible — It is terrible in its overprediction of hospitalizations, ICU/vents, and deaths. It’s also terrible because it predicts that we will go to zero deaths in NY by May 1.

    That won’t happen, but limited spread with small numbers of cases that are tracked and some reasonably small numbers of deaths HAVE to be tolerated.

    This is just sheer insanity, as if these people think the QALY Index for “life under lockdown” is anything close to “full-health”. Sure we are resilient and adaptable but THIS SUCKS.

    It sucks for the oldest and the 15-23 year olds where life is simultaneously difficult and magical.

    I’m center-left and I think this. What do you think the right wing believers in liberty are going to say this summer when the death toll in their state isn’t that high and they are locked in their houses?

  • This strikes me as a horrifically bad idea. The scale of possible unintended consequences for a scheme like this are incredible. People have been out of work for a month and running out of money. Not to mention that they are miserable and lonely.

    What lengths will they not go to to be one of the ‘certified recovered’? Deliberately trying to get infected, forging certificates, bribery. I’m relatively well-off financially and I would do almost anything at this point to go back to work.

    How long does immunity really last anyway? Coronaviruses cause colds too, and that immunity lasts a few months. Flu vaccines wear off after about 6 months. This scheme is based on the idea that the immunity is substantial, but there is no evidence for it. The false sense of security could kill more people.

    Then there’s the effect on society of dividing people between the recovered and the not-recovered. Envy and despair seems like a recipe for violent confrontations.

    There’s a place for ‘recovery certificates’. For example, maybe you need one to visit a retirement home or a hospital. But for general life , work, school, public transportation, it’s a terrible idea.

    Must be nice to be a writer where one works from home anyway and this whole thing is not such a big deal.

    • Anyone who goes out makes multiple contacts. Door knobs, railings, items touched by contaminated gloves whether they are ‘recovered’ or not. No matter your status, you become a walking door knob, adding to the problem!

  • Let’s look a little to the future, and instead of a “recovery certificate”, how about an “immunized certificate”? We do it for schools and could easily extend it for Covid.

    • Well the world has to get back to work before immunized certificates will be available. And Covid-19 is the cold compared to polio. Many already have antibodies and went through the infection. The question here is if we discriminate against certain demographics re-joining the workforce and/or restarting their businesses. Maybe we should give all government workers IQ tests and filter their way back to work that way. Might make government more cost effective and lower our taxes so we can pay for the worthless 1200.00 per citizen stimulus.

  • So, people who haven’t had Covid-19 are held back from earning a living while those who do get it and survive get to move on? Sounds like a new kind of “Have and Have-Not”…

  • As someone who has recovered from covid, I think there is some pragmatism with this approach. However, I was not able to receive a test, just as thousands of other New Yorkers cannot get access to a test, rendering us all worthless in this new endeavor. Broader testing capabilities would help, but the fed govt botched that from the jump. I had a “mild” case even though, I experienced the worst aches and pains of my life for a week. I’m a healthy 35 year old and it kicked my ass. Do NOT mess around with this thing. You DON’T want it.

    • Bryan, true, it is too late for you to receive a nasal swab test. However, a blood antibody test at a later date could confirm your past infection. That combined with your symptoms is a strong indication that you have some immunity now.

      Please keep in mind you can still spread virus on surfaces to others, and we don’t know yet if a heavy new viral exposure could lead to relapse. Stay safe, use personal protective equipment as if you never had the infection, and consider volunteering in your community during the peak needs.

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