Following up with more information about the virus, this time from the highly regarded New England Journal of Medicine:
Ten Weeks to Crush the Curve
Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D.
The President says we are at war with the coronavirus. It’s a war we should fight to win.
The economy is in the tank, and anywhere
from thousands to more than a million American lives are in jeopardy. Most analyses of options and trade-offs assume that both the pandemic and the economic setback must play out
over a period of many months for the pandemic
and even longer for economic recovery. However,
as the economists would say, there is a dominant
option, one that simultaneously limits fatalities
and gets the economy cranking again in a sustainable way.
That choice begins with a forceful, focused
campaign to eradicate Covid-19 in the United
States. The aim is not to flatten the curve;
the goal is to crush the curve. China did this
in Wuhan. We can do it across this country in
And with enough intelligence about the enemy
— where the virus lurks, how quickly it is moving, where it is most threatening, and what its vulnerabilities are — we can begin to re-energize the economy without putting additional lives at risk.
If we take these six steps to mobilize and
organize the nation, we can defeat Covid-19 by
1. Establish unified command. The President
should surprise his critics and appoint a commander who reports directly to the President.
This person must have the President’s full confidence and must earn the confidence of the
American people. This is not a coordinator
across agencies. This commander carries the full
power and authority of the American President
to mobilize every civilian and military asset
needed to win the war. Ask every governor to
appoint an individual state commander with
similar statewide authority. The diversity of our
nation and the various stages of the epidemic in
different regions allow us to target responses to
specific places and times, deploy and redeploy
limited national supplies where they can do the
most good, and learn from experience as we go.
2. Make millions of diagnostic tests available.
Not everyone needs to be tested, but everyone
with symptoms does. The nation needs to gear
up to perform millions of diagnostic tests in the
next 2 weeks. This was key to success in South
Korea. Every decision about managing cases depends on sound medical evaluation and the results of diagnostic tests. Without diagnostic tests,
we cannot trace the scope of the outbreak. Use
creative ways to mobilize the nation’s research
laboratories to assist with population screening;
refer persons who screen positive for further
evaluation. Organize dedicated clinical test sites
in every community that are physically apart from
other care centers, such as the drive-through test
centers that have begun to spring up.
3. Supply health workers with PPE and equip
hospitals to care for a surge in severely ill patients.
Ample supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment) should be standard issue to every U.S.
health worker who is in the front lines caring for
patients and testing for infection. We wouldn’t
send soldiers into battle without ballistic vests;
health workers on the front lines of this war
deserve no less. Regional distribution centers
should rapidly deploy ventilators and other needed equipment from the national stockpile to hospitals with the greatest need. Despite everyone’s
best efforts, in areas hardest hit, crisis standards
of care will need to be put into effect to make
ethically sound, unavoidable decisions about the
use of available equipment and supplies.
4. Differentiate the population into five groups
and treat accordingly. We first need to know who
is infected; second, who is presumed to be infected (i.e., persons with signs and symptoms
consistent with infection who initially test negative); third, who has been exposed; fourth, who
is not known to have been exposed or infected;
and fifth, who has recovered from infection and
is adequately immune. We should act on the basis of symptoms, examinations, tests (currently,
polymerase-chain-reaction assays to detect viral
RNA), and exposures to identify those who belong in each of the first four groups. Hospitalize
those with severe disease or at high risk. Establish infirmaries by utilizing empty convention
centers, for example, to care for those with mild
or moderate disease and at low risk; an isolation
infirmary for all patients will decrease transmission to family members. Convert now-empty
hotels into quarantine centers to house those
who have been exposed, and separate them from
the general population for 2 weeks; this kind of
quarantine will remain practical until and unless the epidemic has exploded in a particular
city or region. Being able to identify the fifth
group — those who were previously infected,
have recovered, and are adequately immune —
requires development, validation, and deployment
of antibody-based tests. This would be a game changer in restarting parts of the economy more
quickly and safely.
5. Inspire and mobilize the public. In this all out effort, everyone has a part to play and virtually everyone is willing. We have begun to unleash American ingenuity in creating new treatments and a vaccine, providing a greater variety and
number of diagnostic tests, and using the power
of information technology, social media, artificial intelligence, and high-speed computing to devise novel solutions. These efforts should be intensified. Everyone can help reduce the risk of exposure and support their friends and neighbors in this critical time. After all health workers have the masks they need, the U.S. Postal Service and willing private companies can join to deliver surgical masks and hand sanitizer to
every American household. If everyone wears a
surgical mask outside the home, those who are
presymptomatic and infected will be less likely
to spread the infection to others. And if everyone
wears a mask, no stigma is attached.
6. Learn while doing through real-time, fundamental research. Clinical care would be vastly
improved by effective antiviral treatment, and
every plausible avenue should be investigated.
We did it with HIV; now, we need to do it faster
with SARS-CoV-2. Clinicians need better predictors of which patient’s condition is prone to deteriorate rapidly or who may go on to die. Decisions to shape the public health response and to restart the economy should be guided by science.
If we learn how many people have been infected
and whether they are now immune, we may determine it’s safe for them to return to their jobs
and resume more normal activities. Is it safe for
others to return to work? That depends on the
level of infection still ongoing, on the nature of
possible exposures in the workplace, and on reliable screening and rapid detection of new cases.
Can schools safely reopen? That depends on
what we learn about children as transmitters of
the virus to their teachers, parents, and grandparents. How dangerous are contaminated spaces
and surfaces? That depends on the survival of
virus under different environmental conditions
and on various materials.
If we take this concerted and determined approach and are guided by science, we can begin
to revive businesses of all kinds, including airlines, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment
venues. By putting cash in peoples’ pockets over
the next couple of months, protecting small
businesses, and releasing constraints on credit,
the President, Congress, and the Federal Reserve
will have positioned the economy to come roaring back — once the virus is out of the picture.
If we do this, we can relieve Americans of
avoidable grief and loss, play our part in the
global struggle against Covid-19, and be in a
stronger position to help other countries. If we
persist with half-measures against the coronavirus, we risk saddling the economy with a long term and avoidable burden of anxious consumers, illness, higher medical costs, and constricted business activity.
While we strive to overcome the immediate
epidemic, we should take steps to be better
equipped to deal with the coronavirus over time
and with other emerging threats in the 21st
century. A safe and effective vaccine will help
protect everyone and serve as a bulwark against
reintroduction of the virus from other parts of
the world. Reinvigorating the public health infrastructure will strengthen national, state, and
local capacities to respond to future threats.
Devising accurate predictive models for emerging infections will vastly improve preparedness.
Rather than stumble through a series of starts
and stops and half-measures on both the health
and the economic fronts, we should forge a
strategy to defeat the coronavirus and open the
way to economic revival.
If we act immediately, we can make the anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2020, the day America declares victory over the
This editorial was published on April 1, 2020, at NEJM.org.