Social distancing is saving lives. But our national leaders, impatient to get Americans back to work, are sending messages that undermine on-the-ground health and safety recommendations that state governors, mayors, and local health departments are urging.
Americans cannot count on their national leaders to make decisions that prioritize human lives and health over the economy. Everyday people must come off the sidelines, raise their voices, and create the health-first policies that can keep our families and communities safe from COVID-19. “We the people” must take bold action now.
Across the United States, black and Latino people are disproportionately dying of the coronavirus disease at rates far higher than white Americans—while they are on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis—putting themselves at risk to help others while keeping their jobs.
States, cities, and local governments are now taking the lead in responding courageously to the COVID-19 pandemic—much more effectively than President Trump. Cities and states are leading the way in mandating social distancing, supporting healthcare infrastructure, and ordering nonessential businesses to close temporarily.
Saving as many lives as possible is possible if we quickly adopt effective approaches. In the short history of this crisis, two countries were the first to successfully quash new infections by breaking the chains of COVID-19 transmission: South Korea and China. These countries showed that dramatic expansion of free testing, tracking of all contacts of positive people, and rapid self-isolating of those with COVID-19 illness is the formula for success.
To stop the spread of COVID-19, and to manage the next wave of infections that are certain to come, we must extend federal stay-at-home guidelines through May 31, 2020, at a minimum, and demand an aggressive campaign for national testing, tracking, isolation, and containment capabilities.
Quite simply, we can’t let people return to work until we identify and isolate infected people; we can’t isolate infected people until we identify them; and we can’t identify them until they are tested. Our goal is to identify and isolate potential COVID-19 cases as early and as quickly as possible.
We have the opportunity to mobilize a whole-of-society approach to identify symptomatic people and quickly isolate them. We can rapidly trace all of their contacts and test them, too. We can utilize phone apps and online registries to support the tracing, testing, and isolation processes. We can spot-check people moving around in public, flagging symptoms such as a fever, in bus and train stations, airports, and other public places. We can mobilize our creativity to ensure that everyone is wearing face masks in public and washing our hands with effective hand sanitizers relentlessly.
Over the past several weeks, I have been honored to join the newly formed COVID-19 Emergency Response Group, which formed in March 2020 and is comprised of leading public health experts, faith and business leaders, former senior Capitol Hill staffers, current and former local and state elected officials, and leaders of global, national, and local NGOs. Our mission is to support others in mobilizing the people’s voice to save as many lives as possible.
We are calling for the urgent inclusion of the Saving Peoples’ Lives Act in the stimulus package being negotiated by Congress right now. For a $20 billion investment, we can ensure that people can get tested in most communities, and when they are tested, they can receive results quickly, their contacts can be traced, and all infected people can be isolated. This legislation will address the racial and ethnic disparities that make Latinos and African Americans more vulnerable, including immigrants, incarcerated people, and the homeless.
Americans can mobilize right now to save as many lives as possible and end the COVID-19 pandemic. But if we don’t take this necessary action, many thousands more Americans will die, and the damage to our economy will be long-lasting.