How to stop the pandemic in the U.S.

Published on Friday, 3 July 2020 15:05
Written by Bill Shortell

The woman’s suffrage movement was in full swing when the Great Flu of 1918 hit. They decided to have their annual convention anyway.

They allowed only delegates, and spaced the chairs four feet apart, but they caught a lot of flak for not wearing masks...a hundred years ago!

Epidemiology was in its infancy then. We have many more resources and advaanced methods for stopping pandemics, now. Several countries are using them, and have brought the spread of the virus to a complete halt: S. Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Kerala...

Not Cconnecticut; not much anywhere in the US!

Wanted: Contact tracing, mass testing, real quarantine

I have background in workplace epidemiology, as a union health and safety representative, chasing down the roots of occupational disease.

It’s not hard to translate that into contagious disease. I have watched us stalling in this country while thousands die. “Stay home” orders and social spacing are enough to level out the number of new cases, NOT to stop the disease.

This especially important for us suffering high caseloads in poor, dense cities, like New Britain.

This is how it’s done: In-depth interviews with every positive case. Go back two weeks, list all their contacts, especially more than a half-hour. You’ll get up to 30 people. Trace these down, TEST THEM. Quarantine all the positives. Not just “Go home till you’re better (and infect your family).”

Interview all the newfound positives...repeat. Electronic apps can help in this process, but are no substitute for human interviews and real quarantine.

We will have to vastly ramp up the testing. Connecticut has averaged 3,000 a day; we are reaching 5,000 a day. Our state plan is looking for 6,000 a day. Many scientists, including a recent exhaustive Harvard study demand 30,000 tests a day for Connecticut.

We are slowly ramping up the testing, but random testing will not stop the virus. It’s a waste of our precious few test kits. Only testing in conjunction with Contact Tracing and quarantine will stop the virus.

We are just beginning to assemble the teams of contact tracers. We’ll need thousands. Mass. and R.I. are in full swing with their programs.

What about privacy?

Trying to balance between opening the economy and saving lives is a necessary agony. Every public health expert from Dr. Fauci on down are emphatic, “Not yet!”

Balancing privacy concerns with saving tens of thousands of lives is a no-brainer. We have to do it. There is no shame in having COVID-19. Health privacy laws have an exemption for contagious disease, already. We need to get over our resistance to the methods of Contact Tracing and stop the spread. It will linger on for years, otherwise, flaring up and killing hundreds of thousands.

What is to be done?

The national executive is mishandling the crisis in a criminal way. Everyone sees that. State and local governments seem paralyzed, also. It’s up to us to motivate and embolden them. They are not set up for this, but the state intends to rely upon the 64 local health departments to do this.

Call them. Offer help. Contact Tracers can be quickly trained.

Call your state representatives and the governor’s office. They are hearing from the Know Nothings who are yelling “Open the Economy!” They need to hear from us. Contact Tracing! Mass testing. Real Quarantine, Now!

There is no time to lose. The plan to reopen the economy can only be safely done in conjunction with a plan for vigorous, courageous Contact Tracing.

New Britain resident Bill Shortell is a former chairman of the Democratic Town Committee.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Friday, 3 July 2020 15:05. Updated: Friday, 3 July 2020 15:07.