‘A long way to go’ before there’s enough testing to reopen economy, Business Roundtable CEO says

The United States needs to see increased testing for the coronavirus before businesses can begin to reopen, Business Roundtable President and CEO Joshua Bolten said Thursday.

“We’ve clearly got a long way to go, but there’s progress being made every day … all the CEOs in our organization agree that testing is an absolutely crucial gating element to getting us back and running safely,” Bolten said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” “So everything we can do to expand the availability of fast and accurate testing is going to be probably the most crucial element to reopening promptly and safely.”

The lack of testing for the virus has been one of the main issues facing the U.S. during the pandemic, with many places limiting who could be tested as the virus spread across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said tests it sent out early on were found to be defective. 

Bolten said returning to a more normal economic environment should involve a “phased” plan in which some businesses open before others and that policymakers should be working on those arrangements now.

“It’s not too soon to plan for a safe and rapid reopening. In fact, it’s very important that the planning go on now,” Bolten said.

The shutdown of nonessential businesses by state and local governments across the country has led to a historic rise in unemployment, with more than 22 million Americans filing jobless claims in the past four weeks. 

President Donald Trump said in a briefing Wednesday evening that he would on Thursday release guidelines for states on how to reopen their economies. Northeastern states including New York and New Jersey announced on Thursday that they were extending the closure of nonessential business until at least May 15. Bolten said he hoped that some areas of the country could begin to reopen on that day. 

Bolten’s organization, which includes the CEOs of major companies such as Amazon, Apple, American Airlines and 3M, sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week, asking the federal government to produce guidelines for workplace safety, among other steps. 

“The companies in the Business Roundtable unanimously endorse the position that safety has to come first,” Bolten said. “And that’s not just true as a proposition for protecting our employees and customers, it’s also a true as a matter of business. Because if people don’t have confidence that it’s safe to go out and go to your job or go to a store, they’re just not going to go regardless of what the government says.”

Bolten’s comments echoed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letter, which said widespread testing was needed for businesses to reopen around the world. 

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