The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
I’m a Harvard-trained physician. That doesn’t make me smarter or dumber than anyone else. But I know we can stop this coronavirus pandemic if we follow this simple national recipe.
1. We must crank up nationwide production of personal protection equipment (PPE) to protect our first responders, our health-care professionals, but also essential personnel and our military forces. This level of production will have to be prodigious and would require invocation of the Defense Production Act. If we don’t achieve step No. 1 it is only because the government and industry have traded American lives for dollars.
2. Production of PPE and cleaning items must be sufficiently high and sustained so that the civilian population stops panicking about shortages of these supplies and can rest assured that they can adequately protect themselves and their homes.
3. We must have a way to rapidly ascertain if an individual is COVID-19 positive (they have been infected with the virus) or negative (they have not yet been infected with the virus). COVID-19 testing can now be done in 5 minutes. Again, we will need millions of these tests.
4. We must carefully track everyone who is tested positive for COVID-19 and survived the viral infection (that is the vast majority of people who acquire the virus). This is a vitally important roster of individuals. Right now, there are thousands of individuals in the U.S. and nearly half a million worldwide who should be on this roster.
5. This is a global illness and requires a global response. We need to identify every test-proven COVID-19 survivor and look for one or more common COVID-19-specific antibodies from blood samples of these survivors. From this group, we should be able to identify antibodies that are effective against the coronavirus and by sharing information we can accelerate the search for antibodies that be derived from cultivated monoclonal cell-lines to begin commercial production.
6. Everyone who has survived a test-proven COVID-19 illness could return to work (after step No. 5), because the presence of COVID-19 antibodies would be proof that it would be safe to return to work as they would almost certainly be immune to further exposure to this strain of the virus.
7. Individuals entering workspaces (airline terminals, offices, buildings, transportation hubs and transportation systems) would have to arrive early to have COVID assays each day they came to work. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are supervised and returned home to be monitored and kept in quarantine. They are assured of pay, benefits, food and product deliveries, pharmacy deliveries, and other support services. They would receive telemetric medical monitoring. If they need medical care, they would only intersect with PPE-protected first responders, transport services, and health-care providers. They would be fast tracked to COVID-specific hospital floors.
8. Work on developing a vaccine so that COVID-19 negative individuals could be protected.
This would provide five critical factors: First, it would ensure a protected workforce. Second, it would identify COVID-19 survivors to begin the search for a potential monoclonal antibody for treatment. Third, it would ensure that only proven COVID-19 survivors and COVID-19 negative individuals would work. Fourth, it could enhance quarantine of COVID-19-positive individuals and get them into the health-care system faster. Lastly, it would save lives and give us time to develop a vaccine to protect those who have not been exposed to COVID-19.
This is the answer to surviving the crisis with the lowest possible loss of life, ensuring the best health care, and getting America back to work. Hurry. We are dying here.
Allan Hamilton is a regents professor of surgery, professor of neurosurgery, psychology, radiation oncology, and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona.
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