The Covid-19 virus has spread to more than hundred countries worldwide. Americans have strong concerns about their safety and the ability of our healthcare system to handle what is now officially a pandemic.
America’s response to this serious health threat has so far been disorganized and unconscionably slow. The initial CDC test used to diagnose the disease did not work. Initial reports indicate that only a few thousand people have been tested so far in America, while South Korea is testing 10,000 per day. The lack of concerted leadership is quite apparent, and the lack of accurate, timely information to the American public is unacceptable.
There is no reason and no excuse for the United States not to be prepared for such pandemic emergencies of today and the future. We must take action:
#1 Quarantines and social distancing: We need to enforce quarantine, create a wellness check process for those under self-quarantine, and penalties for those who violate quarantine procedures. While it is clear that preemptive quarantines will pose real economic disruption across all segments of society, this is far preferable to the damage that will occur if we do not take this urgent step. Quarantining will slow the spread of the virus, and prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. This is a serious concern. In Italy, doctors are having to make the terrible decision of which patients will and will not receive care, as there are simply not enough beds, respirators and personnel to go around. Acting now may hurt; but not taking action could be much worse.
#2 Prevent schools from becoming outbreak epicenters: Santa Clara County has banned all gatherings of over a 1000 people. Many universities have already canceled in-person classes and exams, transitioning to online learning. While children may be much more resilient, they spread the Covid-19 to vulnerable adults and seniors around them. All K-12 schools should consider a school break to prevent the spread of the virus throughout our communities. It is a short term hardship for families and our working class, compared to a potential long term hardship including the life-threatening health impact to seniors.
#3 Reduce US reliance on China: We must develop a strategy to wean America from our heavy reliance on China for active ingredients in pharmaceuticals. Much of the U.S. drug manufacturing industry has relocated offshore, and today we rely on China for many essential medications. Nearly 100% of our generic drugs are manufactured in China. America’s highly outsourced pharmaceutical supply chain makes us vulnerable to medical emergencies. It is time to reestablish American manufacturing of these core ingredients.
#4 America’s healthcare system is vulnerable: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has speculated that vaccines might not be affordable to all and dismissed the idea of using price supports to ensure that poor people would have access to the vaccine despite the fact that taxpayers are funding the creation of the vaccine. Will America be selective in who we protect, and are we really willing to expose the whole population as a result? A significant healthcare issue can bring the economy down to its knees. South Korea has a public healthcare program that is well organized and handled the Coronavirus swiftly and adequately. America can do much better.
#5 National Healthcare Emergency Preparedness: America is not battle-ready with a sound healthcare emergency preparedness plan for a crisis of any scale. We must develop a National Pandemic Preparedness Program as part of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), along with structured processes for coordinating efforts between the government, private/public healthcare units and citizens in an emergency, including quarterly fire-drills. We must restore the US pandemic response team under the National Security Council, and restore funding to the CDC and NIH.
We need epidemic and pandemic preparedness plans that are battle-tested. We need our citizens ready and equipped to handle infectious diseases. The time for action is now. For the latest information, please refer to the following official sites: