Mitigating COVID-19: Early Detection, Early Response

From Bourbon Street to Broadway; the east coast to the west coast; the northern border to the southern border, coronavirus cases continue to grow at an unprecedented rate. Early detection and early response may well be the key to confronting COVID-19. Although the virus is new, the response from leadership isn’t necessarily new.

The COVID-19 pandemic takes me back to 2005 when response by both local and federal leaders was paramount but slow. In this comparison, former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is replaced by President Donald J. Trump. Hurricane Katrina is replaced by COVID-19. The motivation of both of these leaders appears the same – money, not lives. In both cases, some of us believe politics trumped the health and safety of citizens to the decision makers. Neither the president nor any of the team of experts on the federal government’s task force is willing to say the words: “Effective tomorrow at 6 pm, governors in every state and territory of the United States must implement a mandatory stay at home order until further notice.” A national shutdown seems the most logical mitigation response to COVID-19.

In every state that has implemented a stay at home order we’ve seen data supporting the mitigation of cases. It works, people! Still, more than a dozen states continue to ignore medical experts’ advice and do not have strigent stay-at-home orders in place. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has largely resisted the stay-at-home measures used to slow the growth of coronavirus cases. He has said he’s waiting on guidance from the federal government that clearly directs him to issue a stay at home order. DeSantis didn’t get it until he was shamed nationally.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a mandatory 14-day quarrantine for travelers arriving in Texas from a number of other states (including my home state of Louisiana). Yet he hasn’t issued a statewide stay at home order! It’s hard for me to make sense of that logic. Does he believe that Texas residents can’t spread the virus but Louisianians or New Yorkers can? Meanwhile, some 50-plus Texas counties have issued stay-at-home orders.

I believe that a large part of the problem is the language used by the president and his team. They will only say they “encourage” everyone to follow the social distancing guidelines developed by the task force. The president points to a nation of governors with the responsibility to make decisions about each state. The reality of COVID-19 is simple – we need one, unified approach to mitigate the scourge we see across the country. We need a national mandate not a hodge-podge approach based on the whims of each state or local politial jurisdiction. After all, isn’t the president considered the straight shooting president by his base?

We can’t possibly think that the areas without large numbers of cases are somehow immune from COVID-19. Their citizens are simply silently spreading the virus. The statistics just haven’t caught up with what’s happening on the ground. Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week. She made clear that there are parts of the country that must prepare for what’s to come despite the few cases documented so far. “No state, no metro area, will be spared,” she said. I see that as a call for a national stay at home order.

Nearly 15 years ago, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was slow to issue a mandatory evacuation order under pressure from business leaders. That was a travesty. To add insult to injury, Nagin rushed to allow citizens back into the city, defying the counsel of trusted emergency management advisors. No sewer; no accommodations; no power; no food and contaminated water in residences at unbelievable levels. Nagin’s actions were self-centered and deplorable. It’s not a surprise that Nagin is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence following conviction on corruption charges related to bribes from city contractors before and after Katrina.

So, what’s the insult to injury in this pandemic? Is it an administration that has been slow to place restrictions on American companies exporting much needed medical supplies abroad to the highest bidder? Or is it the growing number of courageous medical professionals contracting this virus, some dying, while confronting COVID-19 without the equipment and supplies they need? Make no mistake, health care workers all across America are in dire need of respirator equipment, medical garments, medical masks, oxygen concentrators, and ventilators. The country can’t be so focused on commerce and keeping the economy strong in an election year that we’re willing to risk the lives of those dedicated to saving our lives.

Without doubt, early detection and early response is the answer to confronting COVID-19. For me, that means a comprehensive response overseen by the federal government where the top priority is mitigation no matter the cost.

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