Without the economic knock-on effects, telling people to all close up shop and stay home during a massive health crisis would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the risk of a nasty economic shock seems to be weighing heavily in the decisions of our leadership here in the USA at every level of government.
We already have certain economic safeties installed from previous shocks, like the safeguards that stop trade in the stock market under certain conditions so we don’t easily get a repeat of the crash of 1929. Or the foundations and laws that are designed to swoop into action after a hurricane. Seems like the COVID-19 crisis is providing us with information that could help us build new safeties.
Health crises are different from (other) natural disasters because infrastructure is generally not affected. The two are similar because each can cause people become unable or less able to participate in driving the economy. In both, economy can resume once the crisis is over, but a natural disaster tends to have a much smaller footprint and longer economic reboot time than a health crisis might.
The U.S. federal government is too slow (by design) and apparently quite unprepared to react effectively to a disaster on the scale of COVID-19. Even if they were faster, handing over control of large portions of the economy to the federal government always leaves a bad taste and could easily have consequences just as dire as doing nothing.
I tend to think of the economy as an information entity driven by the movement of value among various actors like individuals, companies and corporations, states and so on up to world-scale organizations. Since actors on all levels are affected in a health crisis, it makes sense for actors on all levels to have access to safety mechanisms that protect various interests.
What kinds of systems could we put in place on each of these levels to allow the relevant slices of economy to go on hold for at least a few weeks as needed? To put it another way: What would we need to do to install economic pause buttons at various scales, and to minimize the effects of any given entity actually using those buttons?