As of today, the United States is on the cusp of 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the White House now admitting that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans are likely to die even if current containment measures are adhered to. If mitigation efforts aren’t enforced, up to 2.4 million Americans are likely to die, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus taskforce response coordinator.
Either of those sets of numbers is frightening.
It’s no wonder that many have criticized the U.S.’s delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic saying things are worse now than they could have been had the government acted sooner. But one person says we can still turn the tide in our favor if we follow precise steps and act on them quickly. That person is Bill Gates, and in an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post he laid out a three-step plan for beating the virus. His words:
There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus. But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed. The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of COVID-19.
The three steps in Gates’s plan are as follows:
- A nationwide lockdown: Gates says that the current state and county piecemeal approach to lockdowns isn’t working because the lockdowns—and what is allowed during them—are so inconsistent. “This is a recipe for disaster. Because people can travel freely across state lines, so can the virus,” Gates argues. His solution? “The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere.”
- Testing for COVID-19 needs to be methodical and streamlined: Gates argues that too little testing is being done in America and the testing that is being done is taking too long. This means we don’t have a good grasp on how many people are actually infected or a good roadmap of where the virus has been and where it’s heading next. “This is why the country needs clear priorities for who is tested,” Gates says, pointing out that far more tests need to be made available. “First on the list should be people in essential roles such as healthcare 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.”
- A data-based approach to developing a vaccine: Finally, Gates says that government officials should refrain from stoking rumors or hopes that a certain drug may help treat the disease—because that will only lead to hoarding and panic buying, and for a drug that may turn out to be ineffectual. Instead, Gates says, “We should stick with the process that works: Run rapid trials involving various candidates and inform the public when the results are in.” In other words, let data lead the way, not hype.
Gates also notes that if scientists do everything right, a vaccine could be ready in 18 months. But then there’s the issue of distribution, which we can’t wait to figure out until the vaccine is ready. He says we should “start now by building the facilities where these vaccines will be made.”
Gates ends his op-ed by saying that though things have looked bleak up until now, he believes there’s time to still turn things around if we act quickly. “As we’ve seen this year, we have a long way to go,” he writes. “But I still believe that if we make the right decisions now, informed by science, data, and the experience of medical professionals, we can save lives and get the country back to work.”