Constant learning and pattern recognition have helped our species live long and flourish. On the path to winning over COVID-19, just like in other challenges that humanity has faced on its way to prosperity, panic and fear are just going to create more problems — whereas action and hope would get this nuisance out of the way much quicker. Pattern recognizing, we need to start testing at scale, effective immediately, and implement digital means like telehealth that will allow people to get triaged remotely and access care without leaving their homes.
But even before we move to act as a society, each and every one of us has a great opportunity, and responsibility, to put pattern recognition to good use to stay safe, and to keep away the tiny (yet sometimes barbarian) COVID-19 that’s scouring the globe to find more human victims. Together, we WILL win over it, the question is how quickly and at what cost.
As a society we also need to get moving on the population level as well — and the sooner the better! In his fascinating genomic epidemiology detective work Trevor Bedford conducted based on the COVID-19 research he and his team had done in the Bedford lab in Seattle WA, he concluded that the narrow testing that was done in the Seattle area in the early days of the Coronavirus spread allowed the virus to spread faster. In contrast, the Coronavirus testing-blitz in South Korea appears to keep the death rate lower than it could be. It’s time to test! The FDA gave high-tech labs the green light to operate tests before receiving any agency review or authorization and both Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp already announced that they have test in the market. But according to CDC, as of March 8 there were only 1,707 tests performed in the US vs. 189,236 in South Korea.
Moreover, it also seems that the rate of infection and morbidity in China is slowing down (assuming that the numbers we’re getting are accurate), and that this may be the result of the incredible effort the Chinese people and authorities have made to contain COVID-19 including mass testing earlier on, especially in infected and high risk areas. Earlier this week Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said he hopes that between the CDC and IDT (Integrated DNA Technologies) they will have capacity to test up to a million or a million and a half people by the end of next week. Are we botching Coronavirus testing?
It’s time to GET GOING!
The one common denominator of a lot of success stories in containing pockets of the current outbreak and other epidemics in the past was that the sooner folks got to implementing both personal and public measures to slow down the spread, the better off they were. The World Health Organization published a report from its recent joint mission to China to learn about COVID-19. This report states, among other important conclusions, that the approach the Chinese took to contain the rapid spread of the Coronavirus “has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic.” It also shows that the most effective actions that helped the Chinese slow down the spread of COVID-19 were:
- Detecting and testing people suspected to have contracted the virus.
- Tracing and testing people who got in touch with people who were infected.
- Suspending public gatherings.
- Deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action in the face of this common threat.
The WHO report highlights the remarkable solidarity of provinces and cities in support of the most vulnerable populations and communities. According to the report, despite ongoing outbreaks in their own areas, Governors and Mayors have continued to send thousands of health care workers and tons of vital PPE supplies into Hubei province and Wuhan city. Moreover, in the head of that WHO mission to China Bruce Alyward explained that “Rapid detection and Rapid response” were the most important factors in the Chinese ability to slow down the trajectory of the disease and to prevent the repetition of the Wuhan story in other provinces. Iran and Italy seem to be experiencing similar rates of spread to what we saw in China and it would be interesting to see how quickly their local authorities and healthcare systems, as well as our own here in the US, move to action and how effective their interventions would be.
But what would be the most effective ways to act? Well, in my opinion, there are three levels we need to consider when considering the best actions:
- Healthcare provider
First, on the individual level, we need to follow these simple steps to make sure that we and our families and friends remain safe. In addition to the basic steps everyone should take to limit their exposure, other measures of social distancing may also be needed. Not attending large group meetings, avoiding places where one is in close proximity to many others, and even working from home, especially people who work in crowded offices or confined spaces.
Regardless of the measures one takes to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus she or he may still develop symptoms that underlie a common cold, the flu, or in some cases COVID-19. When that happens, it’s time to get evaluated as well as receive treatment advice from the most effective and efficient healthcare providers.
On the healthcare provider level, there’s a lot to learn from what could have been better in China if they had more time to prepare. We already have a fully validated, non-contagious, effective, reliable, and scalable way to provide and manage care remotely —we just need to make it available and put it to work: here’s how coronavirus has made telehealth a necessity not just a convenience.