Coronavirus case counts across the US continue to rise, surpassing the 4 million mark on Thursday even as reopenings continued. Frustrated by the inadequate government response, over 150 scientists, medical experts, teachers, and nurses from across the US signed an open letter urging leaders to shut down the country or risk losing even more American lives to COVID-19.
“Of all the nations in the world, we’ve had the most deaths from COVID-19,” the letter begins. And yet it seems that the priority is not to stop the spread, but to reopen the economy, which, though important to the livelihoods of many Americans, exposes “more and more people to coronavirus.”
“In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbours safe. You didn’t use the time to set us up to defeat the virus,” the signees tell leaders. “And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly.” Citing data from the Institute For Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the experts write, “right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st.”
The letter’s signees, which include researchers and doctors from Harvard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, among others, implore leaders to “get [your] priorities straight,” “listen to the experts,” and “shut it down now, and start over.” To truly address the pandemic, they say that testing capacity needs to be increased, more contact tracers need to be hired, and more personal protective equipment should be made available to essential workers. As it stands now, testing capacity is at 39 percent of what it needs to be; as of June, only seven states and Washington, D.C., had the recommended number of contact tracers; and many healthcare workers are again facing a shortage of essential PPE such as gowns, masks, face shields, and gloves.
In addition, the experts say that nonessential businesses should be closed and restaurants limited to takeout, and that people should stay at home as much as possible and wear masks while interacting with others, both indoors and outdoors. They also recommend barring nonessential interstate travel: “When people travel freely between states, the good numbers in one state can go bad quickly,” they explain. With this baseline protocol in place, the experts say, we can wait “until case numbers recede to a level at which we have the capacity to effectively test and trace. Then, and only then, we can try a little more opening, one small step at a time.”
They continue, “If you don’t take these actions, the consequences will be measured in widespread suffering and death.”
These steps are stringent and perhaps difficult to hear, but the experts urge leaders and readers to remember what’s most important. “The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many lives as possible.”