It might seem strange that lockdowns can be both effective at protecting people from coronavirus and yet not have a big impact on the economy. But it’s definitely not impossible. There’s growing scientific evidence that Covid-19 spreads primarily through prolonged indoor personal contact. By forcing people to work from home and socialize over the internet instead of filling crowded offices and social gatherings, lockdowns could protect public health without doing too much harm to the economy.

This suggests that new lockdowns need not be as restrictive as the ones in March to protect the public. Instead of mandating that everyone stay at home, they could simply ban large indoor social gatherings and indoor restaurant and bar seating, while requiring that companies continue work-from-home policies. Everything else -- indoor retail, outdoor gatherings, small indoor social interactions -- could be allowed, with the additional requirement that masks be worn in stores or at outdoor events.

This sort of lockdown-lite might achieve the best of both worlds for states and cities experiencing coronavirus spikes. But it also needs to be paired with vigorous testing, contact tracing and isolation of infected people. Most states still either haven’t hired enough contact tracers to track new infections, or aren’t doing enough testing -- or both.

Together, this toolkit -- masks, testing and tracing and targeted lockdown-lite -- can control the virus until a treatment or vaccine arrives, while causing minimal damage to the economy.

Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.

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