New report: U.S. should take these steps to get the virus under control

One fervently hopes that things will be in a better place come January of 2021, but for those looking to get a feel for the kinds of policies a Biden administration might implement if they’re not (or that a Democratic administration might have put in place had one been in power in early 2020), be sure to check out a new report released by the progressive Center for American Progress today.

In “A New Strategy to Contain the Coronavirus,” a team of CAP analysts lays out a straightforward and common sense plan that’s based on the successful experiences of Japan and some states in the American Northeast. As the report makes clear, there’s nothing particularly radical or magical in the recommendations. What they call for is a redoubling of our national effort in several basic areas of public health policy that were never adequately pursued. This is from the introduction to the report:

“After states rushed to reopen their economies in late spring, coronavirus cases began to surge across most of the United States. At the same time, states in the Northeast have experienced declines in COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. Despite having been the epicenter of the U.S. cases throughout the early spring, this region now has a relatively low degree of new case incidence, even as transmission of the virus accelerates in other parts of the country—particularly in the South and West. (see Figure 1)

Public health experts agree that the rush to end stay-at-home orders without meeting public health benchmarks and the politicization of mask-wearing have created this surge. This report analyses the timing and scope of reopening measures to determine which specific actions were more likely to be the reason for the latest spikes. In particular, the following factors appear to be why the Northeast has had more recent success than the rest of the country in slowing the spread of COVID-19:

  • The timing and duration of initial stay-at-home orders
  • The timing and scope of reopening economic activity
  • Individual behavior and local culture, which may have been influenced by local COVID-19 risks early in the pandemic and reinforced by local policy choices

In particular, this analysis finds that a key policy difference between the Northeast and other states is the timing of reopening bars and indoor dining, combined with the adoption of mask mandates before the lifting of stay-at-home orders. In addition, this report briefly compares these findings with the experiences of other countries, focusing on Japan’s successful approach to cluster-based contact tracing and public education.

Given this evidence, other states and the federal government must at a minimum work to quickly replicate these conditions throughout the rest of the United States. In addition to mask mandates, federal economic support directed to high-risk businesses and their workers can keep those companies financially viable, protect workers’ health and pocketbooks, and slow the spread of the virus.

The need for both the first and second wave of business closures was never inevitable. Like other countries around the world, the United States could have prevented high levels of community spread through swift and aggressive measures such as testing and tracing or promoted the adoption of personal hygiene habits such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Unfortunately, the federal government’s failure to act early on in the pandemic and states’ decisions to reopen too rapidly mean that targeted closures are again critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. This approach of targeted closures and attacking clusters is what is needed at a minimum in areas with substantial spread—but ultimately, local stay-at-home orders may also be needed to create the conditions under which this strategy could work.”

The report concludes by advancing four basic, but proven effective recommendations to limit the spread of the virus:

  • Closing indoor dining and bars, with the federal government providing these establishments critical financial support to cover fixed costs and keep workers employed
  • Monitoring and imposing greater restrictions on potentially high-risk venues such as gyms and places of worship where people generate higher levels of droplets and aerosols
  • Implementing mask mandates, publicizing the rules, and ensuring that all residents—especially lower-income individuals—have access to masks at no cost to them
  • Adopting cluster-based contact tracing

Let’s hope our national and state leaders are paying attention. Click here to read the report.

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