It is hard not to wonder about the Coronavirus pandemic, where we are, how we got here, and where to now. The message from the experts is crystal clear though. The one thing needed for Coronavirus is test data.
Where we are:
News broadcasts around the world reported on the virus outbreak in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic started. They were soon followed by reports of the impact of the infection, stranded cruise ships, and the virus spread. And, the efforts to bring stranded U.S. citizens home as transportation began to shut down.
China reacted aggressively in Wuhan. Germany, South Korea, and others viewed these news reports as early warning signals. They began implementing coordinated responses developed by experts to prepare and control the virus.
The New York Times reported on Germany’s approach here to deal with the coronavirus infection, and to re-open their country. It is early in the process, they are not claiming victory, but early results are encouraging.
In the U.S. we now hold the unwanted distinction as the world’s epicenter for COVID-19 virus infections and lives lost. Our colossal mistake with the pandemic was the precious weeks we squandered under the notion the U.S. was somehow isolated from the virus.
How we got here:
Our response was slow. We hesitated even to suggest social distancing, procure face masks, other critical supplies, or plan a coordinated strategy for the oncoming virus battle. We are, of course, not alone in making mistakes.
Water under the bridge now, but an essential lesson on how we can better handle things going forward because now we know time is of the essence when dealing with the virus spread. As we’ve learned many lives, and the economy depends on us getting things right the first time.
Initially responsibility was primarily delegated to the states to figure it out on their own. Thankfully, some states and cities responded fast, took measures, and provided leadership by example.
The one thing needed for Coronavirus:
Aside from a vaccine, that we must wait for, the one thing needed for Coronavirus is test data. It is an almost universal request from the medical community, scientists, business and local leaders. The test results will support any number of potential options. And, not limit us to the two diametric opposites: either go to work or stay at home.
Time and resources need focused on acquiring knowledge of the pandemic spread through data gathered from testing.
The New York Times reported on Germany’s response: “The study is part of an aggressive approach to combat the virus in a comprehensive way…figuring out how to control the contagion while returning to something resembling normal life. It is aiming to sample the entire population…to gain valuable insight into how deeply the virus has penetrated the society at large, how deadly it really is, and whether immunity might be developing.”
Germany’s pro-active approach suggests perhaps there exists a continuum of possibilities to fight the virus provided we have the test data to help identify them. Although their studies will continue for many months, significant actions can be taken in a matter of weeks.
For example, through their testing, they find the virus may not be as deadly as previously thought. And, while gathering this data through extensive testing they learn how fast the virus spread is growing, or if the curve is flattening and act accordingly.
Another example is the importance of running both the diagnostic and serological tests. Diagnostic tests confirm who has the virus. Serological tests determine who had the virus even without symptoms. Both tests are needed to show the actual extent of the virus spread.
Sixty percent of the infected sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt are asymptomatic. They didn’t know they were infected and run the risk of infecting others, thinking they are healthy.
A high priority is identifying asymptomatic people, through testing, so they can be isolated and treated until healthy again. That lowers the risk for everyone going to the grocery stores, pharmacies, and other service centers. Only more testing can provide the one thing needed for coronavirus; data to identify the asymptomatic cases circulating. Because, they simply don’t know they are ill.
Combining both test results shows the actual number of current and past infections, whether known or not. Only both tests provide important information on the actual mortality and population immunization rates in a given area.
It is critical to know in what areas the virus spread is increasing, decreasing, and who is immune. This knowledge enables safe choices on who can work, needs isolation, or who can return to work.
Want to get back to work safely?
Tomas Pueyo shows how in “The Hammer and the Dance”. “Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterward, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way.”
Germany’s primary factor in choosing how to respond to the virus was to obtain the data to find the most effective path forward. A path determined by scientists and the medical community with data, not politicians with bias.
A nationally coordinated and objective approach is needed in the U.S. to save lives and the economy. It has many advantages:
National testing advantages:
- It sets priorities so limited testing resources are used for the one thing needed for coronavirus; data for high impact answers. In particular to provide sufficient test kits to run both types of tests at least on selected local virus “hot spots” in the U.S.
- Above all, the hot spot test programs can provide statistically valid data of the COVID-19 virus at different stages of the infection. Not only the symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, mortality rate, and levels of “herd immunity.” It is essential for policymakers to make informed decisions. But also the data can simulate approaches for use in other locations across the country when they reach that stage.
- Importantly gathering data is value-added work. And, the resources and time dedicated to this relatively small amount of testing are objectively focused on the virus problem itself, in contrast to biased or preconceived notions.
- Objective data is needed to formulate a credible national strategy based on the core idea that this is a medical and scientific issue, not a political issue. Data, not guesses and speculation support effective solutions.
- There is a wide variety of local conditions to consider in a diverse country such as ours. For example, the degree of the virus spread, rural or metropolitan, the congestion of workplaces, the number infected, and treatment capacity are just a few factors.
- The data can be used to simulate projections that would support a phased approach rather than a one size fits all. It would provide variable guidelines for the locations to apply as appropriate for the conditions of that specific location. An example is one approach for a rural Midwest community’s low infection rate and another for a coastal city’s higher infection rate.
A faster, better pandemic playbook:
- Any strategy from a data-based approach is inherently more credible and valuable for citizens’ “buy-in” and to facilitate the implementation.
- Moreover, the whole country doesn’t need to shut down out of precaution because “we just don’t know.”
- This, by the way, does not preclude local initiatives from moving forward to develop other possible solutions. Our diversity is our strength, so let’s leverage it too.
- In addition, scientifically valid results exchanged with the international community fosters a sense of co-operation. Undoubtedly co-operation accelerates solutions, further, validates results, and raises the level of confidence in any conclusions. We subsequently learn from others’ experiences and they from us.
- And, a data-based pandemic playbook provides politicians with scapegoats should they choose to use one; “it was those darn scientists!”
Bring critical manufacturing capacity back home:
The pandemic gave us an alarming wake-up call. The U.S. is so dependent on outsourcing that we can’t produce, nor during a crises import, adequate quantities of basic, critical health care necessities. Products like protective gowns, masks, or the reagents for the virus tests become a national security issue when sources are not diversified.
As a member of the world community globalization is not going away by any means. However, after the pandemic crises passes, a focus on developing more resilient supply chains for critical items needs to be high on the national priority list. And, some things should just be produced here at home.
We are at war:
We are at war and under attack by an invisible enemy. Like any war, we need a coordinated, national response using all our weapons and resources effectively. Our troops in this war are the scientist, the medical professionals and the one thing needed for Coronavirus is test data. Data is the troops’ weapon for intelligent decisions and recommendations.
An intelligent national pandemic playbook is in fact slowly evolving but we need faster. Time is of the essence. We must leverage a co-ordinated national approach led by experts. We must accept our mistakes, swallow our pride, learn from others, and move forward carefully and competently. A pandemic playbook built on data and in co-operation will help assure the inevitable second wave of infections cost us fewer lives and economic damage.
Our leadership must buy us the time to finish the pandemic playbook. And, they must prepare a communication plan with the experts to clearly explain the strategy to all. All this while we wait for a vaccine. We cannot squander another opportunity to get it right. Or, the second virus wave over the next number of months will be a lot worse.
As Tomas Pueyo concludes: “If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.”
Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) recently wrote: “Sometimes extraordinary events in history can cause a change in the body politic. As a nation, we were clearly not equipped for this global pandemic, and the consequences have been devastating. But it is forcing us to work together, and it is improving civility and reminding us that we all live on one planet. E Pluribus Unum.”
Let’s imagine for a moment that we set aside the blame game, political and geographic differences, and all become just Americans. Americans working together with our allies around the world to leverage global resources and the best minds and ideas from the most qualified scientists and doctors.
Wouldn’t a science first approach provide the one thing needed for coronavirus, data, assure a faster, more credible, and intelligent national pandemic playbook for our path forward?
We are learning a lot, and with God’s speed and guidance, we can get through this a better, healthier nation and member of the world community.
Thanks for reading.