On Tuesday, the White House projected an alarming possibility: Between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the efforts in place to minimize the spread of the disease. Yet these 100,000 to 240,000 deaths are not inevitable. Far from it. As of Thursday night there have been around 5,850 to date in the US, and of the 242,000 active cases, unfortunately several thousand are likely to die. But the US could still keep the death toll well below 100,000. It all depends on our public policy, and especially on our public health system.
The great challenge for the US and Europe, in addition to saving the lives of those infected with Covid-19 and helping society to adhere to and cope with the lockdown, is to shift from lockdown mode to public health containment mode as rapidly as possible. During the coming weeks we must build up the public health systems across the nation. Every city, every community, needs to scale up the capacity to test, trace and isolate infected individuals. The federal government needs to create incentives (such as guaranteeing paid sick leave to cover all working people with no exceptions) so that people with symptoms quickly self-isolate. Within several weeks, an effective national lockdown will likely reduce sharply the number of newly infected persons. The newly built-up public health systems can then ensure that the much smaller number of infected persons do not set off a new pandemic outbreak as the lockdown is lifted.
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