Unprecedented action needed to curb spread of coronavirus

President Trump compared the coronavirus pandemic to war. Imagine sending half our soldiers to war with no rifles or helmets. That’s overly simplistic but reflects what we are asking of hospitals and medical providers facing this crisis.

The war analogy reflects our nation’s primary problem. When non-professionals call the shots in war, it’s a disaster. An untrained, non-professional English commander who had bought his commission sent the Light Brigade to its demise 165 years ago.

The Lancet, a global medical journal, had an editorial Friday stressing that “... health-care workers are on the frontline and their safety must be ensured.” Twelve of its 15 featured articles are on this pandemic. Our elected leaders must defer to trained professionals.

Oregon Health Sciences University recently determined COVID-19 will require an additional 1,400 hospital beds in a matter of weeks in Oregon, a more than 20% increase. The chief medical officer at OHSU said the number of new cases may double every 6.2 days.

It took 3 months to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases worldwide. The second 100,000 only took 12 days.

We need bold leadership over political expediency. The White House spent weeks playing down this issue, as the White House did for the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, instead of listening to experts, creating trickle-down decision-avoidance at every level. We are weeks behind. Coronavirus is apolitical; partisanship must go away.

On Monday, the US was about where Italy was 2 weeks earlier. On Thursday, Italy experienced 427 deaths. That speaks volumes about the need for hard, fast decisions and an end to political expediency.

It would behoove our leaders to err on the side of health and safety. 

Vo, Italy, between Venice and Milan, tested everyone and found that half of those showing no symptoms tested positive, and were isolated. By testing everyone, and acting accordingly, they were able to hold the outbreak to a minimum because of the national lockdown.

Imperial College professor Andrea Crisanti, who participated in the Vo effort, noted that the small-scale containment program in the Italian city should serve as a model for addressing this pandemic. On Monday, Imperial College released a report that includes modeling that display estimated results of different actions. Due to our severe shortage of ventilators, which are required, the death toll could be over 4 million deaths in the U.S. if drastic action isn’t taken. No amount of money can buy equipment that isn’t available.

Elected officials must do as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommended on Sunday: a two-week near-total shutdown of the country to dramatically slow the spread. 

Elected officials say we are doing everything we can. That’s false. This week we’ve seen how unprepared we are. A Tuesday article noted that a very ill Oregonian waited 6 days for coronavirus test results. Another hospital tested a person who died; it was over 3 days before the results showed she had COVID-19.

Discussing crowded bars, restaurants and airports, Dr Fauci said “I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction we see” now. He proposed a 14-day national shutdown and told President Trump he wants an “overly aggressive” response that includes “whatever it takes” to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Fauci understands the human health ramifications. Elected officials focus on economics, not health and safety.

Necessary services can’t stop. The majority of travel — air, train, car — is unnecessary and must be halted.  Elected leaders must defer to experts who understand the levity of our predicament.

Coronavirus is spreading exponentially. To not take significant actions now increases problems of COVID-19 to beyond manageable levels as well as making the impact of an inevitable shutdown infinitely worse.

“The shutdown is inevitable as it is already happening, but not in a controlled fashion which is extending the economic pain and amplifying the spread of the virus,” Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, wrote Wednesday morning.

Money is being allocated to address this issue, as is necessary. However, this is a public health crisis and that’s where the primary focus must be. Worrying about commerce should be the last concern of our leaders. Senator Merkley’s Thursday newsletter displays this problem by focusing on getting money allocated and distributed. Only in the last paragraph does he address what should be the primary focus: stopping the spread.

Think triage; this is a health emergency.

Money can’t buy time. Critical supplies have very limited availability, like ventilators and test kits. The country is running out of protective gear for healthcare personnel and infected people. Money can’t buy hospital beds and test facilities anywhere near fast enough. We are already running out of trained medical staff. We must dramatically slow the spread.

We’ve all seen that graphic on flattening the curve. Money can’t flatten that curve from exceeding our country’s capability to handle the exponential spread of coronavirus. That means the most aggressive possible actions must be taken to dramatically slow the movement and interactions of people.

Coronavirus infections double each week. The economic hit to Main Street America will likely double each week we don’t see aggressive decisions to slow the spread immediately.

By the time you read this, things will have changed dramatically from when this was written.

Rick Meis lives in Halfway.

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