In a new Op-Ed for the Washington Post, Microsoft founder Bill Gates calls for a national shutdown.
Gates also predicts it could take “10 weeks or more” for case numbers to go down in America, which would mean a shutdown of over 2 months.
Of course, a 2 1/2 month continued shutdown could have devastating economic effects to the millions of Americans already reeling from the current lockdown climate.
Through my work with the Gates Foundation, I’ve spoken with experts and leaders in Washington and across the country. It’s become clear to me that we must take three steps.
First, we need a consistent nationwide approach to shutting down. Despite urging from public health experts, some states and counties haven’t shut down completely. In some states, beaches are still open; in others, restaurants still serve sit-down meals.
This is a recipe for disaster. Because people can travel freely across state lines, so can the virus. The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere. Until the case numbers start to go down across America — which could take 10 weeks or more — no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown. Any confusion about this point will only extend the economic pain, raise the odds that the virus will return, and cause more deaths.
Second, the federal government needs to step up on testing. Far more tests should be made available. We should also aggregate the results so we can quickly identify potential volunteers for clinical trials and know with confidence when it’s time to return to normal. There are good examples to follow: New York state recently expanded its capacity to up to more than 20,000 tests per day.
There’s also been some progress on more efficient testing methods, such as the self-swab developed by the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, which allows patients to take a sample themselves without possibly exposing a health worker. I hope this and other innovations in testing are scaled up across the country soon.
Even so, demand for tests will probably exceed the supply for some time, and right now, there’s little rhyme or reason to who gets the few that are available. As a result, we don’t have a good handle on how many cases there are or where the virus is likely headed next, and it will be hard to know if it rebounds later. And because of the backlog of samples, it can take seven days for results to arrive when we need them within 24 hours.
This is why the country needs clear priorities for who is tested. First on the list should be people in essential roles such as health-care workers and first responders, followed by highly symptomatic people who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill and those who are likely to have been exposed.
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