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Why does the U.S. lag behind the world in managing COVID?

Other countries let biology and math drive the decision making

Sunita Sohrabji Ethnic Media Services | 8/27/2020, midnight
The U.S., which has both the largest number of infections and deaths from COVID-19..

The U.S., which has both the largest number of infections and deaths from COVID-19, is lagging far behind other countries which have far fewer resources, concluded three eminent physicians and global health experts speaking at recent news briefing.

Speakers at the briefing, organized by Ethnic Media Services, included Dr. Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute; Dr. Tung Nguyen, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco; and Dr. Nirav Shah, senior scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center.

The U.S. leads the world in both COVID infections and mortality rates. 5.3 million U.S. residents have been infected, while more than 167,000 have died. Nguyen said the number of new infections had jumped by a staggering 66 percent over the past five weeks.

“America may have the worst response of any country in the world to this pandemic,” said Jha, noting that there is an incredible amount of misinformation spread through social media and a lack of leadership.

“We’ve had leadership both at the federal level and at many state levels that have largely adhered to that misinformation and promoted that misinformation. They have failed to take science as the primary guiding principle,” he stated.

“This is almost all about biology and math and if you decide you’re going to ignore both the biology and the math of this virus, it is unlikely that you’ll end up doing very well and that’s what we have seen pretty consistently,” said Jha.

He dismissed notions that authoritarian countries do better, citing Russia and Brazil, which are pandemic hot-spots.

Jha discussed why some East Asian countries have been effective in controlling the spread. Vietnam, which has had just a handful of deaths, took on the virus early, banning travel to and from China, and instituting a very aggressive contact tracing regime. South Korea has relied heavily on testing, while New Zealand has been aggressive with lock-downs. Japan has not done a lot of testing, but has had universal masking.

Jha castigated the U.S.’s “half-hearted” approach to the pandemic, stating one approach must be deployed effectively. “You don’t have to be a wealthy country to do well,” he said. “Take the virus seriously and let biology and math drive the decision making.”

Shah, who also serves on the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030, said the U.S. is making a false choice between lives and livelihoods. “You can have both,” he said.

Shah discussed early warning systems — smart thermometers that allowed for home testing with results immediately delivered to a database via the Internet to determine COVID hot-spots. He advocated for broad and efficient testing, noting that, currently, U.S. residents must wait for at least five days for COVID test results to come back, at which point they are inefficient. Low-cost rapid antigen tests could deliver results in about 15 minutes, he said.

The U.S. must also become more effective in quarantine, said Shah, noting that some countries remove infected people from their families and put them up in hotel rooms to control spread in tightly-packed families.