With the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, the great majority of which are accompanied by mild symptoms, we will soon have a growing number of folks who have recovered from the virus and likely are no longer at risk.

Call them the “Had It Alreadys,” or HIAs (pronounced “hiya” like the social greeting of people who are free to mingle). HIAs would likely be immune, which would make them enormously valuable in a nation of the fearful and the quarantined.

They could step up to perform critical tasks in place of people worried about infection. Health care and food handling are only the most obvious places where immune workers would perform essential services free of coronavirus risk. Uber and Lyft drivers certified as safe are essential to moving people around, especially in cities. Retail stores, including grocery stores, would welcome HIAs to keep the doors open while protecting their customers.

How many HIAs have already been laid off as businesses close, people who could go back to work in service, professional and industrial jobs? Every sector of the economy would benefit from HIAs going back to work, even if they represent only a small percentage of the normal workforce.

The coming months will see a lot more of these people: those infected who have been sick and recovered, and those who never even knew they had contracted the virus. Hospitals have records of the sick and recovered.

Perhaps a simple antibody test could be developed that would certify someone as immune by virtue of having had the virus already. Surely some HIAs would be happy to pay for such a test themselves if it would allow them to return to making a living and free them from the strictures of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.

As their numbers grow, which they surely will, HIAs are going to want to return to a more normal life. They’ll want to go to cafes and restaurants. They will want to mingle. It’s not hard to imagine a lively bar scene in establishments with bouncers at the door checking not just date of birth but HIA certification. And every dollar they spend will contribute to the revival of our shattered economy.

Americans who have had the COVID-19 coronavirus already, who are hopefully immune from getting it again, can play a crucial role in rebuilding our country and other countries around the world. While the most important medical research has to continue to focus on keeping people alive and preventing the spread of the virus, it’s not too soon to tap those who have had it already as allies on the long road to national recovery.

Stuart Cohen is a photographer, writer and hiker in Santa Fe.

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