Apr 1st 2020

Why America Is Losing to COVID-19

by William A. Haseltine

 

William A. Haseltine, a scientist, biotech entrepreneur, and infectious disease expert, is Chair and President of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International. 
 

 

NEW YORK – Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s behavior over the past two weeks is exactly what’s wrong with America’s response to COVID-19. Paul has a compromised lung, so he decided that he should be tested for the disease out of an abundance of caution. From the time of his test until he was confirmed positive six days later, Paul did nothing to protect those around him. On the contrary, he met with other senators, cast votes on the Senate floor, played a round of golf at a private club, and even squeezed in a few laps at the Senate pool.

In the countries that have contained the coronavirus outbreak, such irresponsible behavior has not been tolerated, and even could have landed Paul in jail. As a physician (ophthalmologist), he, more than anyone, should know that if he was concerned enough about COVID-19 to be tested for it, he should have been equally concerned about the risk he was posing to others.

Containing the transmission of any infectious pathogen – especially one as contagious as COVID-19 – requires aggressive action. Defensive moves like closing businesses or social distancing are effective only when combined with rigorous, systematic efforts to get ahead of the spread of the disease.

In Singapore, South Korea, and other countries that have stanched the spread of the coronavirus, public-health authorities have followed a simple process. First, widespread testing has identified those who are infected even before they show symptoms (which many never do). Then, aggressive contact tracing has identified everyone with whom the infected person has interacted. Finally, everyone identified has been subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

This process not only contained the outbreak; it also avoided some of the extreme lockdown measures used elsewhere. Success lies in an uncompromising approach involving mass testing, contact tracing, and selective quarantining – all of which the US has failed to do. 

In Singapore, the moment a person tests positive for COVID-19, a team of contact tracers is deployed. Someone sits with the patient for hours asking where he has been and with whom he has been in contact in the previous days. Others track down names, phone numbers, addresses, and anything else the patient can tell them that might help identify more positive cases.

The team then delivers its findings to the Ministry of Health, which corroborates the information through phone calls, CCTV footage, and traditional detective work like reviewing retail receipts or checking rideshare apps to find drivers and passengers who might have interacted with the patient. 

Once the list of potential contacts is known, everyone on it receives a call, and those most at risk of having been infected are required – not asked – to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Depending on the closeness of the contact, some are moved to a secure quarantine facility, whereas others may be permitted to remain in their homes.

Earlier this month, a close friend of mine returned from Europe to Shanghai and lived through the quarantine experience. Three days after arriving in China, he received calls from the police, the Shanghai Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the district CDC telling him that a passenger on his flight had tested positive. My friend and his wife were then put into controlled quarantine, in a hotel that had been converted for the purpose. They resided in separate rooms, received three meals a day (along with other amenities), and were prevented from leaving until 14 days had passed since the point of initial contact on their flight.

In China, quarantines are monitored through an app. Everyone receives a unique QR code showing their status – green if you’re clear of infection, yellow if you’ve been instructed to stay indoors, red if you are under quarantine. If you’re roaming the streets and your QR code flashes red, you will immediately be moved back to quarantine, or else you may face fines or jail time.

Singapore has taken this technology even further, launching a new TraceTogether app that people can download to help protect themselves and those around them. If a user passes within two meters of someone who is found to be infected, the app immediately notifies the user of the risk. 

Since late January, when Singapore reported its first case of COVID-19, more than 6,000 people have been identified through contract tracing and put into proactive isolation and quarantine. Owing to these efforts, infections have been contained, hospitals have not experienced a major surge in new patients, and only three people have died of the disease.

By contrast, although the US has many of these methods at its disposal, it has failed to deploy them effectively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has trained more than 3,600 disease detectives who are skilled in identifying those infected, tracing their history of contacts, and mitigating the wider risk to the community. But they have been unable to do their jobs, owing largely to early testing failures, which still have yet to be resolved. 

Contact tracing is costly and time-consuming even in the best of times, when an outbreak is still small. With large outbreaks that have gone undetected because of a lack of tests, it becomes nearly impossible logistically.

But failure must not be allowed to follow failure. Tests are finally becoming available to more Americans. Widespread testing, together with exhaustive contact tracing and selective quarantines, can still help us wrestle the outbreak back under control. As Paul himself said when defending his reckless behavior, “America is strong. We are a resilient people, but we’re stronger when we stand together.” True, but we are stronger when we stand together and act responsibly.


William A. Haseltine, a scientist, biotech entrepreneur, and infectious disease expert, is Chair and President of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "