WASHINGTON — In the past month, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has fielded calls from at least three members of a new coalition pitching an aggressive plan to reopen America.

The political backgrounds of Kushner’s callers diverged sharply: They ranged from Scott Gottlieb, a Trump appointee who ran the Food and Drug Administration until last year, to a pair of Obama-era health officials whose views diverge from the White House’s at nearly every turn.

Their message, however, was largely the same: The White House should back a $46.5 billion effort to hire an army of 180,000 contact-tracers, book blocks of vacant hotel rooms so Americans sick with Covid-19 can self-isolate, and pay sick individuals to stay away from work until they recover.

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The plan, outlined Monday in a letter to Congress first reported by NPR, is among the most aggressive visions for a national program to conduct testing and contact tracing so that the U.S. can reopen its economy even as the coronavirus continues to spread. And given its backing from high-ranking health officials spanning the last three presidencies, it could also prove to be the most viable. Beyond Gottlieb, the coalition includes Mark McClellan, the former FDA chief; Andy Slavitt, the Obama administration’s acting Medicare and Medicaid director; Leana Wen, the former Planned Parenthood president and Baltimore health commissioner; and Bill Frist, a physician and former GOP lawmaker who served as Senate majority leader from 2003 to 2007.

“If you’re a Democrat, you like the fact that this creates jobs and helps local economies, and that it’s really good public health policy,” said Bob Kocher, a physician and former Obama adviser who helped to develop the plan. “And if you’re a Republican, you’re not creating some sort of entitlement program here, you’re spending money for a near-term problem.”

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It’s not clear yet whether the Trump administration will embrace the proposal. A White House spokesman declined to comment about either the group’s overtures to Kushner and other aides or whether Trump might support the idea.

Nor is it clear whether the group can make inroads on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers would need to craft the program through congressional committees and then vote to authorize the spending. Though members of the group said they’d briefed both Democratic and Republican members of Congress on the plan, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not respond to STAT’s request for comment, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referred questions to a committee aide.

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A Democratic spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees many federal health programs, said simply that the committee was familiar with the proposal and welcomed the experts’ insight. And Michael Zona, a spokesman for the Senate Finance Committee’s Republican majority, said that lawmakers and committee staff were reviewing the proposal — though Congress has already appropriated funds that could be used for many of its initiatives, like additional unemployment insurance for individuals who are self-isolating.

“We appreciate the focus on testing, contract tracing, and isolating,” Zona said. “The proposal does cover initiatives that can be done with money Congress has already provided, including $25 billion for testing, in addition to funds provided in earlier bills. With nearly half of that money going to states, they are able to fund contact tracing.”

The Slavitt-Gottlieb collaboration represents a marked contrast to the partisan undertones that have hampered much of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response. The pair in particular has worked to bridge divides between lawmakers from both major parties, and has hatched plans to conduct further congressional outreach once lawmakers return to Washington.

“What we tried to do is organize enough people that could be representative of all the issues and concerns that Congress and the White House would be likely to have, and to try to hash those out so that we could present a united front,” Slavitt said in an interview.

The plan’s backers hope that Congress will include a version of their national contact-tracing plan in its next round of coronavirus-related stimulus spending. And despite its immense price tag, the nearly $50 billion plan isn’t an unreasonable ask: In fact, it represents a relatively small chunk of the money lawmakers have spent to date on coronavirus-related relief efforts. Already, lawmakers have approved legislation worth over $2 trillion to prop up struggling hospitals, fund additional coronavirus testing, and improve unemployment insurance.

The plan calls for $12 billion in new funding for a 180,000-strong workforce of new contact tracers to track coronavirus cases; $4.5 billion to pay for hotels so that Americans with coronavirus can self-isolate without infecting others; and $30 billion to replace wages for those who can’t work while self-isolating.

The funding would allow for a dramatic increase in the country’s contact-tracing workforce, which works to identify sick individuals and reach out to those they recently interacted with, encouraging them to be tested and potentially self-isolate to avoid spreading the virus.

Some local contact tracing efforts are already underway. New York City’s government on Monday announced it would hire 1,000 contact-tracers. California has already deployed state workers to engage in contact-tracing, while Washington state asked 500 service members within its National Guard contingent to assist in its tracing efforts.

By some measures, the coalition’s request is somewhat modest. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told STAT this month that the country would require a contact-tracing force of 300,000 — nearly double the size of the proposal being pushed by Gottlieb, Slavitt, and others.

  • These are good ideas, proven to work.

    Here in New Zealand, our adequate testing (about twice US rate of 12,000 per million) from the start we used WHO tests, plus thorough contact tracing/testing from our first case, with hotel quarantines with food deliveries and health board monitoring daily is how NZ, and also South Korea and China got rates down to 3 deaths per million (USA is currently at 196 per million and rising). Though SK used apps to contact trace, we rely on peoples’ memories of who they would have been breathing near for over a half hour; choir practice, yoga, etc – while China used draconian isolation, the principle is the same.

    The USA has enough people to do phone calls for contact tracing while many are home and unemployed. And opinion pollsters say home isolators are now answering their phones. Food deliveries and hotel rents are also job creators.

  • $4.5 billion for empty hotel rooms—a creative recovery plan for Trump and Kushner properties.

  • In this climate, “bipartisan” means a group of big-government Republicans has found common cause with leftists to enrich themselves to the detriment of the country as a whole.

    • I’m generally against bipartisanship for basically this reason, as well as the need to curb centrism. Centrists, as well as neoliberals are the reason our country isn’t moving forward. People who believe in these non-ideologies refuse to support anything except for the absolute status quo. Even the way we think of bipartisanship is at its core detrimental to our society, as the majority of people believe in a political line, with “left-wing” on one end, and “right-wing” on the other. Placing yourself on this line is futile, as you ignore the many other dimensions of political theory, for example authoritarian or libertarian, statist or globalist, culturally conservative or progressive, the list goes on. Of course, the only reason any of this is a surprise is because of the centrist, neoliberal society we are raised in, pushing us towards the center of the political portmanteau that would really cause change in our society. This is the natural result of a multiple party system, in which there is always a struck “balance,” at which point change can no longer take place. There are only two relevant solutions to this, two places on the (simplified) political compass where this sort of thing doesn’t happen. One of these locations would be on the extreme auth right, also known as absolute monarchism. Under the control of a centralized political entity, more powerful than any political power, we can begin to see change really take place, almost always towards a better world. For example, it would only take 1 person to shut down the country, not upwards of 600. If this change seems too daunting, that’s fine, we can always fall back on fascism as a less extreme version of this ideology. Of course, on the other end of this spectrum is the post-posadist anarcho-primivitist form of thought, which may be a lot less extreme in your eyes. This political ideology is in the far authoritarian left of the political spectrum, like an extreme form of communism. There is two basic ideas at the core of post-posadist anarcho-primivitist. The Posadist part operates under the assumption that our stagnant political climate was caused by unrestrained capitalism, causing people to value the economy more than the lives of the people. It also accepts capitalism is ultimately unbeatable while operating under its system. So the Posadist want to nuke the entire world, and start over as a anarchist-primitivist society. They believe that the remnants of civilization will tend towards communism due to the smaller size of humanity. The key to making a better world is political extremism.

  • All this praise for nonpartisanship re Gottlieb is just evidence that Facher is not paying attention. Gottlieb did exactly what Big Tobacco wanted as FDA – and that was to do nothing to stem teen smoking and vaping besides suggesting restrictions on flavoring. Such a regulation is like trying to control gun violence by putting a warning label on the box. So, do not hold your breath that this is just another scheme to get some billionaire richer.

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