What Will Stop COVID-19?
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No one knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end. It is clear, however, that the United States has mounted an unusually ineffective response. President Trump and his administration have faced widespread criticism for their early efforts to downplay the severity of the virus. Though Trump’s approval rating tied its peak of 49% on March 24th, the United States surpassed China as the country with the most infections just two days later.
Worst Case Scenario
Public health officials already take it for granted that the United States will see an overwhelming number of infections. Across the nation, state and local governments have introduced social distancing regulations in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overburdening hospitals. The president has advised citizens to avoid crowds of more than ten people. Social distancing efforts are complicated by what The Atlantic’s Ed Yong has called “the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure.” That is, a number of failed attempts to introduce effective tests for the virus in February. Those failures, combined with the Trump administration’s slow and inconsistent response, has created a situation in which the United States could experience more deaths from COVID-19 infection than any other country.
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In the near-term future, Americans can expect to see infections skyrocket. Yong describes a worst case scenario: “By the end of June, for every available critical-care bed, there will be roughly 15 COVID-19 patients in need of one. By the end of the summer, the pandemic will have directly killed 2.2 million Americans.” Even conservative estimates suggest a staggering number of people are already infected or will ultimately become infected.
What Needs to Happen
Across the world, several hundred groups of scientists are attempting to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Yong contends that the United States must take the following measures to limit the chances of an especially dire outcome. They are all within our reach.
- Produce more protective equipment: Most importantly, the United States must ramp up production of protective equipment like masks and gloves. Shortages are already occurring all over the country and leaving healthcare workers even more vulnerable to infection. The federal government is currently deploying the Strategic National Stockpile to address the shortage, but its supply is not infinite. Yong echoes many members of Congress in calling on President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act. Doing so would force major manufacturers to pivot their operations to address the crisis.
- Ramp up COVID-19 testing: On March 6th, the President remarked that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.” This is still untrue. Tests are not yet widely available and must be used carefully. Hospitalized patients and healthcare workers are taking precedence. This should enable the healthcare system to “quell any ongoing fires” before tests become widely available.
- Practicing social distancing: Social distancing is essential to ensure America’s healthcare system does not become totally overwhelmed with an influx of infected patients. By keeping themselves isolated, Americans reduce their risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
- Encouraging and enforcing social distancing: Yong suggests that the success of any COVID-19 mitigation effort will depend on federal, state, and local governments’ ability to impress the importance of social distancing. He quotes a recent analysis from the University of Pennsylvania which came to a dire conclusion. Even if social distancing can reduce infections by 95%, it found, 960,000 Americans will still require intensive care. It is essential that Americans understand the value of social distancing and that regulations are enforced.
For the time being, every American has a role to play in fighting COVID-19. Practicing social distancing not only reduces your risk of infection, but ensures you are less likely to pass COVID-19 onto someone else. Keep yourself informed and continue to follow state and local guidelines.