Capital Hill and the Politics of the Pandemic

Where Do We Go from Here?

Yesterday we heard from our scientific leaders and our leaders in Congress about plans for handling the Covid-19 pandemic, but it still seems that we are just feeling our way as we go along. To a large extent that may be all that we can do.  However, are we really emphasizing what we should be emphasizing ? There are some basic facts that we do know about this pandemic even though there is a lot that we do not know. For example, we know that this coronavirus is more communicable that the influenza virus and potentially more deadly. Based on the history of prior flu pandemics we know that this pandemic is likely to last one and half to two years assuming that there are no major mutations of the virus. Also, based on past history we know that the pandemic will not be over until somewhere between 60-70% of the population is immune either because of vaccination or naturally occurring infection. We know that a vaccine will take a least a year to develop, but it is also likely that it will take much longer to really find out if the vaccine is effective. In addition, it is likely that there will be different vaccines by different developers, and it will take some time before we know which is best. One other thing we really don’t know yet about this pandemic is whether infection or vaccination will confer long term immunity, and this makes it even more imperative that medications be developed to treat the active infection and its sequelae such as the so -called “cytokine storm” and the new Covid -19 related “Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome.”

So where do we go from here? Instead of spending trillions of dollars on fiscal stimulus packages, concentrate on TESTING. The sooner we have the ability to provide universal testing both for the presence of the virus and for antibody titers to detect prior infection, the sooner we define who is at risk and who has presumably had the infection and is likely to be immune. We have come a long way in terms of testing both for antibody and actual virus, but the sooner we have universal testing the sooner we can get everyone back to work and resume a more normal societal pattern. Identify those who have the virus and are presumably carriers. Isolate them as best we can until they are clear of the virus. That should slow transmission. Identify those who have had the virus and are presumably immune. Allow them to go back to work and maintain mitigation practices. Allow those who test negative to also go back to work while they likewise continue mitigation practices. If we do this, we can slow progression of the pandemic until we have better anti-viral treatments and vaccines. We can get people back to work,  and we can begin to resume more normal lives. If we don’t do this, we hasten the onset of economic catastrophe and the collapse of our way of life. 

The importance of getting the country back on its feet as quickly as possible cannot be overestimated. That means letting people go back to work, resume normal activity as much as possible and socialize. Testing is the the way to do this while we develop vaccines and treatments. If we don’t do this soon, will have no economy, no stability, no future and no country. We have the resources to ramp up testing and that is definitely what we should be doing at this point. Testing should become so easy that we can go to the drug store or our local doctor and get the test for both the antibody and the virus any time we want. Instead of spending trillions on subsidies and loans, let’s spend a large portion of that money on the testing we need. We have definitely increased the testing over the past few weeks, but we can do much more.  Testing needs to become so easy that any one at any time can get it done. We have the testing technology down. We just need to mass produce the tests. It can be done. Let’s spend the money needed to do that instead of pouring all the money into subsidies and bailouts. Once we do that, we will have gone a long way toward solving the problem of who can go back to work and who can enter society.  Identify those who are risk, especially the elderly and those with predisposing conditions, and isolate them when needed to protect them. Identify those who have had the illness and are potentially immune so they can go back to work. Identify those who are carriers and sequester them until the carrier state is resolved. While we are doing all of this, we continue to work on vaccines and improve them. We continue to work on antiviral medications and the medications needed to treat the various conditions associated with this infection. Spend our money on doing these things, and we will come out winners in the long run with much less of a national debt.  If we delay the testing and identification, the pandemic will last longer than it should while our economy and country continue to suffer.