Letter to the Editor

COVID-19 response

Thursday, May 7, 2020

COVID-19 has one purpose, to infect people. Itís relentless, doesnít discriminate and canít be stopped without a vaccine or herd immunity. When it attacks your lungs, oxygen to vital organs is reduced which can result in organ failure. While lungs are ground zero, it can directly attack many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut and brain. As of May 7, the U.S. has 76,000-plus deaths at a seven-day moving average of 1,878. With 238 days left in 2020 there could be nearly half a million deaths by year end. Thatís just the deaths, not critically ill millions that will suffer but survive, mostly likely with hospital bills in the hundreds of thousands. Itís highly unlikely you wonít know someone that gets really sick or dies. Note: in a case before SCOTUS the Trump administration is trying to repeal the ACA leaving millions without health insurance.

Itís critical the economy is opened up and that people that donít die needlessly. How to do both is the question. Look to South Korea for the answer. South Korea and the U.S. both had their first documented COVID-19 cases on Jan. 21. By Feb. 29 South Korea had 3,109 cases, the most outside China with cases doubling every few days. The U.S. had 60 cases. While South Korea never imposed a compulsory lockdown, strict social distancing had been widely observed since March. In a population of 51 million, as of May 5 their seven-day moving average of new cases was six with 256 total deaths using an extensive "trace, test and treat" program thatís drawn widespread praise. New Zealand, Australia and Norway have flattened the curve on daily cases as well.

South Korea used tracking from their first hot spot to identify thousands and ordered them to self-isolate. Within days, thousands of people in Daegu were tested. Individuals with the most serious cases were sent to hospitals, those with milder cases checked into isolation units. The government used a combination of interviews and cellphone surveillance to track down the recent contacts of new patients and ordered those contacts to self-isolate as well.

South Korea used a World Health Organization test recipe and quickly ramped up the testing. The U.S. did not use COVID-19 diagnostic tests produced by the WHO in favor of producing its own, the first of which were faulty. Per medical experts and scientists, the U.S. is falling far short in testing capabilities regardless of President Donald Trumpís claim on March 6 that ďAnybody that wants a test can get a test.Ē

Within a month, the Korean outbreak was effectively contained. In the first two weeks of March, new daily cases fell from 800 to fewer than 100. As of May 6 the nation of 51 million reported zero new domestic infections for the third straight day. Positive cases have been from international passengers/returning citizens.

If the U.S. had started using the same "trace, test and treat" program on March 13 when the national emergency was declared, then we could likely now be seeing similar results that meet Trumpís own task force guidance to reopen that states that they should either have a 14-day downward trajectory of documented cases, or a 14-day downward trajectory of percentage of tests coming back positive. Most of the 30 states reopening have more new cases each day than two weeks ago. State by state restrictions enacted since mid-March may have temporarily slowed the spread but not contained it and it will come roaring back with the relaxed restrictions. A national policy of testing, tracing and treatment is needed now.

I question the ability of Americans to commit to a unified effort for even the few weeks South Korea needed, not the months or years often mentioned. Those trying to enforce social distancing and wearing of face masks are being attacked and killed. Really? Why? Weíve modified behaviors for the health/safety of society in the past: seat belts, kidsí car seats, bike helmets, traffic laws, no smoking in public places, etc. Remember smoking on planes? Think of the virus as that smoke on the plane. It didnít stay in the smoking section.

If as some public figures suggest, a certain amount of unnecessary death is acceptable in exchange for a strong economy, whose death are they OK with? It appears itís those they deem less worthy than they are. Could that be you? They sure donít think itís them or their loved ones. Being labeled essential doesnít matter to them either. Essential people are replaceable in their minds. If the majority of society feels that way then we are no longer a civilized society.

Stay safe, wash your hands, donít touch your face, keep 6 feet apart or wear a mask if you canít, respect each other. THANK YOU to first responders, essential workers, volunteers and those working to find a way through this.

ó Diane Smith, Spencer