National Consumers League

COVID-19 is here and thriving, and ‘flattening the curve’ is the only way forward

Nissa Shaffi

Like most Americans, you probably feel besieged by the rapidly evolving developments surrounding COVID-19. The spread of this novel illness has led to drastic measures to contain the virus and protect public health, and the question on everyone’s mind is how bad is this going to get? The short answer: we don’t know. The long answer: COVID-19 is going to disrupt our lives in the coming weeks, if not days, and its overall impact will be realized for months to come.

A lot has happened since I last wrote on COVID-19, so let’s unpack the most recent events:

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially designated COVID-19 as a pandemic, which is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease.

On March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to release $50 billion of funding to fortify efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. With more than 4,100 (and counting) active cases of COVID-19 in the United States, more than 40 states have declared states of emergency.

On March 14, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), with sweeping bipartisan support. H.R. 6201 aims to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by expanding access to free testing, extending the Family Medical Leave Act, allocating $1 billion in food aid, and extending sick leave benefits to vulnerable Americans.

On March 15, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced that the nation is entering a new phase in testing for COVID-19, which will increase the capacity and throughput of testing across the country.

So, why exactly has the disease spread so quickly? The issue lies with the fact that the government has grossly mismanaged critical response efforts for COVID-19. This is in part due to initial faulty tests distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which contained technical manufacturing issues, yielding incorrect results.

Once the CDC identified the error, it promised prompt redistribution of new tests – a process that unfortunately took six-weeks to rectify, catalyzing the silent and effective spread of the virus. Amid these series of planning failures, the Trump administration has falsely claimed that anyone who wants a test can obtain one. Yet, concerned patients across the country have complained that they have been denied tests, due to either unavailability or shifting guidance from the CDC regarding who should be diagnosed, treated, and tested.

We now face the reality that we are catastrophically behind in terms of testing and identifying individuals carrying COVID-19. To put this in perspective, South Korea conducts more tests in one day (10,000), than the United States has in the past two months (5,000-8,000).

We must now accept the sobering truth that these delays have enabled patients with an unknown COVID-19 status to serve as vectors to the disease in their communities. Johns Hopkins Professor, Marty Makary, estimates that for every person that has tested positive for COVID-19, there are 25-50 potential new cases. Makary speculates that, at present, there are potentially 50,000 to 500,000 active (undetected) cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

The promising news is that we’ve entered a new phase in COVID-19 response efforts. The CDC traditionally reserved the right to develop new diagnostic tests. However, in the time of COVID-19, this has severely limited the potential to capture the full impact of the outbreak. On Sunday, the White House Coronavirus Taskforce announced that newly forged public and private partnerships would expand testing for COVID-19 significantly.

To aid in critical response efforts, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved high throughput testing, which will significantly increase capacity for testing to hundreds of thousands of individuals per day. We can expect 2 million tests to be available across 2,000 labs nationwide, starting this week.

There are currently labs in every state that have been approved to conduct COVID-19 testing. In order to ebb further contamination, drive-through testing centers have been established in seven states, with more expected to pop up in the coming weeks.

The CDC has released very specific guidance regarding how to pursue testing for COVID-19, should you suspect that you have the illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, and they may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you have these symptoms and suspect that you may be infected, the most important thing to do is to first call your doctor or local health care facility. This will assist your health care provider in properly triaging you without risk of contaminating others.

Over the past few days, you’ve probably heard the words “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” and, most importantly, “flattening the curve.” In the coming days, we will witness increased cancellations of sporting events, public gatherings, and closures of entire school systems until the spread of the virus tapers off or declines.

It’s all part of a nationwide effort to curb the spread of the pandemic. These measures are extreme – something we haven’t experienced in our lifetimes - but they serve to prevent huge cohorts of people from getting sick all at once, which will wreak havoc on the healthcare system. Now that we have ramped up testing efforts, the number of active cases will arise. Flattening the curve will help delay the spread of disease, as we identify the true incidence of the illness.

We are in a critical time in our nation’s history, and we must all do our part in protecting our communities from further spread of COVID-19. If you have COVID-19, please click here to learn about how you can ensure its containment.

Lastly, if we had a vaccine against the Coronavirus, none of these dire steps would be needed because we’d all get vaccinated. NCL has long championed the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, often in the face of anti-vaxx zealots - we can’t help but be struck by the irony. Everyone wants a vaccine! We are heartened to know that many companies are working to develop antiviral therapies to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Pfizer, for example, has issued a five-point plan to aid scientists in developing treatments to help address this crisis.

The National Consumers League commends the efforts of the CDC, FDA, and other public health agencies in containing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Whether its 4 weeks or weeks, we all must make social sacrifices – whatever we must do to contain the virus. These are short windows in the scheme of things, and they will head us in the right direction. Stay healthy and follow CDC guidance on how to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19.