Controlling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will require Americans to unify behind measures necessary to achieve victory over the disease. Panic is unnecessary, simply because America knows how to rise to this challenge and has overcome similar ones in the past.
This article from the Scientific American magazine’s website (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/preparing-for-coronavirus-to-strike/) is both a helpful primer on the epidemiology of the disease and a call to Americans to make the sacrifices necessary to control it. While the data is still insufficient, it appears that COVID-19 is generally as contagious as the flu, though its 2% fatality rate is higher. This higher fatality rate means as many as 2-4 million Americans could die without a coordinated response. The key to preventing this scale of tragedy lies in reducing the number of infections by practicing the basic precautions described in the article and by isolating those infected for the two-week period during which they are infectious. Some public gatherings and events may need to be canceled to avoid inadvertent spread of the disease. Employers will have to allow employees to work from home or provide paid sick leave during recovery to provide the job security to encourage them to stay home. Thankfully, many large employers already have such contingency plans developed a decade ago to prepare for a potential bird flu epidemic. Epidemiologists call this “flattening the curve” of the spread, which avoids overwhelming hospitals with patients, allows the authorities to develop supporting infrastructure and gives medicine sufficient time to find and adequately test a vaccine.
This kind of community response must be supported by a coordinated effort by the federal government to develop the weapons we need to defeat the virus. An article from the DefenseOne website outlines the military-style program necessary to develop those weapons. See https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/02/federal-government-should-go-war-coronavirus-today/163401/?oref=defense_one_breaking_nl. The appointment of Vice-President Pence to lead the response is a good first start. Both articles point out that one of our most important weapons is information. Americans need full and frequent updates on the disease and the work of community, national and international organizations fighting against it. For example, the development of a vaccine is being led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), an international consortium of university research centers and biotechnology firms whose goal is to develop a vaccine for a new disease within 16 weeks of its identification. They have already rough drafts of applications for approval and testing of a coronavirus vaccine to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other nation’s drug regulatory agencies. CEPI represents the best form of globalization – an alliance of private groups focused on positive solutions of a specific issue, but subject to the policies of each nation-state. You can follow their work at https://cepi.net/.
Thus, all of the societal, medical, scientific and governmental resources are in place to protect our country from the worst of the COVID-19 epidemic. We know how to do it and have successfully done it in the past. The photo at the beginning of this post is of Dr. William C. Gorgas, the Army doctor and chief medical officer of the Panama Canal construction project tasked by Theodore Roosevelt to battle against the yellow fever and malaria that had defeated the French construction effort. He used military style tactics to control the mosquitoes carrying the diseases and enabled the United States to complete a project that others only dreamed about. (See https://www.wearethemighty.com/articles/this-army-doctor-made-the-panama-canal-possible-by-killing-mosquitoes The same unified commitment and community spirit can prevail once again in the fight against COVID-19.