In the ongoing battle to control the relentless surge of COVID-19 cases and casualties, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been painfully absent.
The agency has retreated from daily updates, indispensable for the American people to know where we are, where we’re going, and what data support our national policies. Yet almost 4 million Americans have been infected so far and over 140,000 have died.
There should already be a national mandate for masks in public: data consistently support their widespread use in minimizing infection and death. Furthermore, Goldman Sachs has estimated that $1 trillion could be saved by such a mandate, representing about 5 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product. Such information defies the false dichotomy of health versus economy. Both are winners with universal mask usage.
The United States urgently needs forceful statements to assist the safe opening of schools, businesses, and entertainment centers, depending on infection rates. Equally important, there have to be strict rules to revert to shelter-in-place policies, based on rising rates. Essential workers and small businesses, vulnerable with such actions, need to be protected by new stimulus packages.
National Guidance on COVID-19
We know that COVID-19 is transmitted by close person to person contact with respiratory droplets from infected people, and sometimes by tiny droplets emitted several meters away hours after the infected person left an enclosed area.
The key mantra is to stay outdoors, stay away from crowds, maintain clean air, wear masks in public, and maintain personal hygiene. The CDC should define data-driven control measures for opening schools, businesses, and entertainment centers. A vocal national statement needs to replace the current patchwork of confusing state directives.
Questions need to be addressed with a nuanced language of uncertainty. How do we define each of the known control measures for safe travel in a bus or on public transportation to school? How do we keep students socially distanced in classrooms, bathrooms, and other common areas? When do students need to wear masks? How many air exchanges per hour will keep the air clean? Should we install safely-shielded, UV light in all rooms where students are present to sterilize the air? How often should students be tested for the virus? What do we do with the information?
Time for CDC to Do Its Job
The unfortunate truth is that the more the CDC shies away from daily updates to the public, the more such shrinking timidity erodes confidence in public health authorities. The presentations should be science-based: what we know, what we don’t know, and what assumptions currently inform the espoused policies. Written, general guidelines are insufficient; bold TV and radio pronouncements are essential.
#TakeAction to slow the spread of #COVID19 by wearing a cloth face covering in public spaces, keeping at least 6 feet of physical distance, & frequently washing your hands. Make a cloth face covering from a t-shirt, scarf or cloth napkin. Learn how at https://t.co/RxIwGVIdCq pic.twitter.com/wtDCESLIb2
— CDC Emergency (@CDCemergency) July 23, 2020
It is presumed that the CDC has been marginalized for political purposes. But scientific updates cannot be subjugated by the bullying threats of being fired by a president unschooled in and disdainful of science. The critical issues are not only health and the economy, but also those of great ethical import – we continue to lose thousands of lives daily, the result of the sluggish and inadequate responses to the pandemic.
In French philosopher Albert Camus’ allegorical novel, The Plague, the protagonist is asked how he manages so tirelessly to face the waves of patients needing help. Dr. Rieux, the book’s narrator, responds, “It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.” When asked what decency is, he responds, “doing my job.”
It’s time for the CDC to do its job. The public is eager to join the fight but seeks the national clarion call for action that will reduce the unforgiving pain and suffering of COVID-19.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.