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Vox.com: “Expert’s Seven Best Ideas– how to beat COVID-19 and save the economy”: easy, obvious ideas that the US hasn’t implemented

2020-05-13

photo by Peter H courtesy of pixabay.com– chosen for its cheerful “vibe”

This post is based on an article published on the website Vox.com on May 13, titled “Expert’s 7 best ideas on how to beat Covid-19 and save the economy”.  These ideas are not new or unusual, and most of them have been mentioned before, multiple times.  Here they are, again, with reasons why:

  1. Everyone should wear masks.  Not because they protect you from catching the virus– they don’t– but because they prevent you from passing it on to others.  If you have the virus, and you are asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, you are breathing it out with every breath.  You especially send it out when you speak, whether or not you cough or sneeze.  This could be particularly problematic in an enclosed space, like an elevator or a car or bus.  Anywhere that you are within six feet of another person, they are at risk of receiving significant quantities of virus when they breathe in your exhaled air, unless the respired particles are trapped by your mask.  Transmission levels have been calculated to be reduced to one-twelfth if 80 percent of the population were to wear masks, according to Vox.  One study that supports mask use is from 2009, looking at the H5N1 influenza pandemic, reported in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.  The federal government should be supporting companies that produce protective equipment here in the US and guaranteeing that they will purchase all the equipment that is manufactured, even if it is not immediately needed; whatever is left over will go into a stockpile for future use.
  2. Use all available means to accelerate vaccine production.  This includes methods that carry some risk of “barking up the wrong tree” but that could “bear fruit”. For example, we could recruit a group of young, healthy (at low risk of serious disease) vaccine recipients to deliberately expose themselves to the virus.  This would greatly accelerate the development of effective vaccines because most of the lag time, once a vaccine is found to be safe, involves waiting for vaccine recipients to be exposed to the virus to find out if it works or not.  If vaccine recipients were exposed reliably to the virus six weeks after receipt, effectiveness levels would become evident in a few days.  This step alone could save six months of development time (phase III of trials).  Another expedient measure is to stockpile ingredients that will be needed for all vaccines: the glass vials, rubber stoppers, syringes, and needles used for storage and administration.  The specialized glass needed for vaccine bottles is already known to be in shortage.  A third measure is to scale up production of vaccines known to be safe before they are found to be effective.  Scaling up production is a major bottleneck for vaccines.  The latter two of these expedient measures require investment by the federal government in guaranteed markets for the vaccines and supplies.
  3. More and smarter testing.  Advocates for more testing are legion, and there is no point in repeating their arguments here.  Smarter testing, however, should be emphasized.  It is not enough to test people after they get sick.  Persons who are at high risk, either of being infected or after infection, should be prioritized before they develop symptoms.  This includes people who work in hospitals, not just doctors and nurses but all ancillary personnel.  Also included are grocery store workers, cab drivers, police and fire responders, residents of nursing homes, and elderly people who live at home.  People with severe obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and heart disease should be proactively tested.  Again, the federal government should be buying every test and supply item that is made, encouraging all producers to ramp up their capabilities, and stockpiling whatever is left over.
  4. Hiring and training an army of contact tracers.  At least 300,000 people should be brought on and their jobs guaranteed for the next two years by the federal government.  This will help control transmission of the virus and reduce unemployment as well.
  5. Stop the spread of virus within households.  With people mostly confined at home, the virus efficiently spreads through households.  When it is introduced to the house by the one person who has to go out to work in contact with the public, or go grocery shopping for the rest, the virus will rapidly spread because people at home are closely confined and can’t isolate from one another.  This is especially true in poor households where people don’t have the room to reserve one bathroom and one bedroom for each person.  When one household member is old or chronically ill, even if they don’t leave the home, they will catch the virus from others who do go out– especially if they need personal care.  Successful quarantining requires that those who are identified as having the virus be removed from the home and isolated elsewhere– perhaps in a newly empty hotel room (there are plenty of those available with the collapse of the hospitality industry).
  6. Allow everyone to use the outdoors– public parks, for example.  There is little risk of virus transmission outdoors, especially if people wear masks.  This will have the benefit of helping people’s mental health: a little fresh air and exercise will go a long way towards relieving quarantine fatigue.  Closing parks and recreation areas does little to help reduce transmission and increases people’s anxiety about being cooped up.
  7. Spend the money needed to stimulate the economy.  Rather than just bailing out corporations, money should be delivered to people who need it to pay their rent and buy food.  The simplest way to do that is to give $2000 a month to everyone who has lost their jobs and doesn’t have enough savings to tide them over.  The second place where money is urgently needed is to support state and local governments, who are unable to operate in the red and are likely to lay off essential workers if they are not paid.  Thirdly, small businesses who don’t have “existing banking relationships” have been frozen out of the federal stimulus program by its basic terms.  A guarantee to pay all expenses, including payroll, up to $5 million yearly for the next two years (or until the situation returns to something resembling the prior normal) for companies that do not have existing small business loans, helps relieve economic hardship and prevents wholesale bankruptcies and closure of businesses.  The federal government is able to borrow money at less interest than the recent inflation rate, essentially for free, so there is little to be lost and much to be gained in terms of future economic growth to pay back all that borrowed money.

These are some simple, yet radical ideas that will go a long way towards helping us to recover from this pandemic without risking the destruction of society as we used to know it.  All it takes is for the Congress to act.  (Easy to describe, hard to imagine that it will happen.)  If we don’t do something like this, then we will face a spreading depression that will resemble the Great Depression except that it will come on much more suddenly.  That’s on top of the deaths of 150,000 to 200,000 people over the next year.

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