Opinion: The one unforgivable thing about the Covid-19 response


So far, three major phases of the pandemic have unfolded in the United States. The problems started in the northeast in the spring, then spread to other large urban areas, quickly overwhelming hospitals and nursing homes. The high death rates were in part due to a lack of knowledge on how to treat the infection.

The infection then exploded in the Sun Belt, where a group of refugenik governors from Georgia, Florida, Texas and Arizona, possibly under the President’s sway, decided to treat the pandemic like a standing bear. menacingly in the backyard: If they ignored the problem, maybe it would go away.

Then, in early fall, we saw a rapid increase in cases in northern farmland states like Iowa and North and South Dakota, where provocative governors seemed to be delighted to lead a collective cheer. of the Bronx against the experts.

This latest rise in cases, unlike the first two, has not diminished. Instead, the spread of the virus has only accelerated, with the country entering Covid-19 overdrive last month. The rate of new cases and deaths across the country means that it is now impossible to attribute a single cause to the alarming outbreak.

Take California, for example, which now comes second in terms of new cases per population, behind only Tennessee. Covid-19 is crushing the healthcare system, with the California Department of Public Health reporting around 39,000 new cases and hundreds of deaths a day as of December 23. Southern California is particularly hard hit, with cases disproportionately affecting Latinos, who make up about 39% of the state’s population but account for about 56% of cases and 48% of deaths.

It’s a mystery why California is being hit so hard and why it is experiencing a surge now. Maybe people who are fed up with the restrictions and monotony of a partial lockdown are cutting corners; maybe it’s a change of weather; maybe the election events and Thanksgiving brought too many people nearby; perhaps the gloomy economy has led some to accept jobs without adequate protection; maybe the virus has become more contagious; and maybe it was a combination of those factors.

At this point, rather than discussing the possible cause, the focus should be on how best to control the problem; to do this, we have three distinct approaches, each with real promise.

First of all, it is important to respect the main public health measures: masks, social distancing, avoidance of crowds. This approach remains effective, although it has been adopted unevenly across the country. After 11 months, however, adhering to these measures can be extremely tedious and at times seemingly intolerable – even for the most avid public health fans, myself included.

Fortunately, a large-scale vaccination is on the horizon – but this miracle certainly goes both ways. Yes, it has given the world hope, but it can also make people mistakenly think that it would be okay to relax preventive measures before the vaccine is widely available.

But the evidence is clear: giving up masks and social distancing will only make this national tragedy worse. We are currently seeing about 200,000 new cases per day and over 2,500 deaths per day in the United States. We cannot afford to pretend this crisis is over.

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The third effective intervention has always been right under our noses, even if it has been vastly underused: aggressive diagnostic tests on a large scale. Of the many Covid-19 failures of the Trump administration, its failure to develop a modern, practical and reliable national testing program is the most unforgivable. Eleven months after the start of the pandemic, the lines to be tested are still ridiculously long and test results are often delayed by days, not hours.

Widespread testing allows people to make informed decisions. Germany and South Korea have made it the cornerstone of their effective testing programs, while Hong Kong has installed test kit vending machines at metro stations. And professional sports leagues have tested several times a week as a fundamental approach to their containment strategy.

Of all the questions I get from friends about Covid-19, where testing is by far the most common. After observing the reaction of people who got their test results, it is clear that nothing strengthens their resolve to continue to mask more than a negative Covid-19 test.

Yet, on average, we only perform less than 2 million tests per day in the United States. While this rate is about double the September rate, it still falls far short of what is needed. In April, experts called for at least 5 million tests per day in early June to ensure safe social openness, and 20 million tests per day in mid-summer to re-engage the economy. Others hoped for even more aggressive lenses to “test almost everyone, almost every day.”

President-elect Joe Biden seems to understand the value of this strategy, which could bridge the many months of vulnerability between now and the development of vaccine-induced herd immunity.

But until his group of scientific advisers take control, California and the many other states overwhelmed by the disease would be well served to stress the importance of public health measures and begin to develop the most aggressive screening program. that they can afford. From this will flow crucial information – and perhaps just as important, restoring public confidence that officials really know what they are doing.


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