Dr. Scott Gottlieb, onetime FDA commissioner and current fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, took to social media to declare that the United States was running out of time to contain the virus before it blasts its way across the country and infects tens of millions.
“In the U.S. we face two alternative but hard outlooks … that we follow a path similar to South Korea or one closer to Italy,” he wrote in a Twitter thread.
“We probably lost [the] chance to have an outcome like South Korea. We must do everything to avert the tragic suffering being borne by Italy,” he continued, as reported by the UK’s Daily Mail.
The paper noted further:
South Korea's aggressive early testing and containment strategy has kept the coronavirus fatality rate there under 1 percent. Italy, on the other hand, has a fatality rate of 5 percent, compared to the global average of 3.4 percent.
The Wall Street Journal added that the 5 percent coronavirus death rate in Italy is due in large part to its aged population.
Fair enough. But then, America’s population is aging, too. According to Rural Health Info, there are more than 46 million adults in the U.S. age 65 and older; that’s millions of potential deaths from coronavirus. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the possibility that COVID-19 could mutate into something newer — because viruses do that.
So the point is, despite the emergency declaration, the Trump administration has to act, and quickly.
“It starts with aggressive screening to get people diagnosed. While testing capacity expands its not evenly distributed to places most needed, we’re far behind current caseloads,” Gottlieb wrote online. “To [sic] many people still can’t get screened. So we can’t identify clusters and isolate disease.”
Then he noted:
In some respects our fate rests on the entities that are capable of sharply ramping testing and distributing the services nationally. Academic labs can serve their institutions. Only big national clinical labs like LabCorp and Quest can fill the void. A lot rides on them now.
The Daily Mail noted that officials from both of those companies confirmed they are dramatically ramping up their testing capacity that physicians and hospitals from around the country can order.
“We are now able to perform several thousand tests per day and are rapidly adding new equipment and staff to create additional capacity,” the paper quoted a LabCorp spokeswoman as saying. She added that the company’s employees are working 24/7 to increase capacity and COVID-19 testing. (Related: President Trump declares state of emergency as coronavirus epidemic explodes across America, explains that only people “with symptoms” will be tested.)
A Quest spokesperson, meanwhile, said the company planned to be able to perform “tens of thousands of tests per week within six weeks.”
And while ramping up testing is good, Gottlieb said far more drastic measures needed to be implemented — by the federal government and local governments.
“Shutting down NBA games is not enough,” he wrote. “This must be practiced in places large and small. Small gatherings, parties, all should be postponed for the next month or two.
“Social separation works. Every day we delay hard decisions, every day leaders don’t demand collective action, the depth of the epidemic will be larger. We must act now. We have a narrow window to avert a worse outcome. The virus is firmly rooted in our cities. We’re losing time.”
Gottlieb also recommended that elective procedures be put on hold for several weeks and hospitals begin working now to reduce their in-patient load so they can “prepare for an influx of cases.”
“We need to create surge capacity in hospitals,” he wrote, as the Daily Mail reported that the U.S. has about 330,000 hospital beds nationwide.
Trump’s declaration Friday was a good measure. But clearly, more must be done, and quickly.