The problem is we’ve been waiting for COVID-19 to find us rather than we going out and trying to find it.
That’s the gist of the strategy urged by a fellow named Jim Yong Kim in an essay he wrote in this week’s edition of The New Yorker. Kim is a decorated veteran of a number of epidemiological wars around the globe. He’s a medical doctor as well as a PhD in anthropology. In the 1990s he co-founded Partners in Health, an international organization formed to halt the spread of disease in underdeveloped countries. Kim has experience in stopping or dramatically slowing the spread of cholera, ebola and tuberculosis in places where the water often runs dirty, when it runs at all. In the ‘Aughts he ran the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS arm. He’s been the chair of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, the president of Dartmouth College, and he even served as the head of the World Bank until last year. The dude has chops.
He’s the kind of person you want to listen to when he pitches a solution to a problem. And COVID-19 is right in his wheelhouse.
Acc’d’g to Kim, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have successfully stemmed the spread of COVID-19 by implementing a rigid and aggressive five-step program. Places like Germany, Australia, and New Zealand also have made remarkable headway against the pandemic by employing that quintet of actions, albeit to a slightly lesser degree of stringency than the aforementioned Asian locales.
I’m going to list the five steps in a bit but first allow me to vent. For pity’s goddamned sake, doing this five-stage thing is so logical, so proven, so necessary, that the fact that this holy land as well as scads of other nations around the world haven’t set it in motion is tantamount to a crime against humanity. Making Kim’s five-step strategy our national strategy would require leadership that’s smart, strong, and compassionate.
I have to concede that the four Asians locations are, to one degree or another, authoritarian, so it was a hell of a lot easier for their leaders to say, Look here, this is what we’re gonna do.
But in war — as President Gag has described the novel coronavirus crisis — even leaders of “free” nations can take extraordinary measures to get the populace and businesses working in concert toward victory. Li’l Duce positions himself as a strong man; here’s his chance to show real strength.
“We’re not going on the offensive,” Kim writes, “taking the fight to the virus and stopping its transmission.” We’re waiting for a miracle, he says. As the pandemic spread across the United States, “it’s seemed like the only thing to do is hunker down, wait, and hope.”
In South Korea, far and away the most successful at containing this virus, “people talk about COVID-19 as if it were a person. Leaders of the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have told me that the virus is sneaky, nasty, and durable — and that it has to be hunted down.”
Finding COVID-19 is just one of the five steps. Here they are:
- Social distancing to flatten the curve
- Widespread random testing to find who is infected.
- Tracking down and testing all those who had contact with infected people.
- Isolating all people who test positive and providing full financial support to them, making it more likely they will not violate their quarantine.
- Hospitalizing all people whose symptoms require it, utilizing dedicated facilities in hotels, convention centers, warehouses, etc.
In the United States, getting us all aboard on this five-step program would require a president who can wrangle the governors of the 50 states; who can direct certain manufacturers to immediately gear up to produce tens of millions of testing kits and PPE; and who’ll persuade pharmaceutical companies to repurpose their labs to process all those test results. In war, that’s what you do. You get automakers to manufacture Jeeps and tanks.
In this country, we need to give quarantined people the ability to stock the refrigerator, pay the rent, and keep the utilities on. You’ve got to give them the dough to stand them through weeks of isolation and the inability to work. And you’ve got to give them hope.
All this would be a monumental task for any president of a nation, many of whose citizens fetishize self-sufficiency and are fearful to the point of pathology of big government. Nevertheless, a game attempt to implement this program ought to be the president’s highest priority. He might not be as successful as the leader of Singapore, a man who can pretty much snap his fingers and make a program go, but, hell, it was P. Gag who fancied himself a wartime president the other week.
Alright then, now get out there and deliver, baby.