(April 27, 2020 / JNS) We’ve never had a time in human history when virtually everyone on the planet has been terrified that one wrong move may lead to death from the same enemy.
This is the cold heart of the COVID-19 crisis—the imminent fear of death. People are spooked by a vicious, mysterious new virus that is hyper contagious and has already taken more than 50,000 lives in the United States and more than 200,000 around the world.
These ghastly figures are why our economy has been frozen, why people are taking extraordinary precautions, and why it will be so difficult to get the economy back on its feet.
It’s not that people are afraid to get sick; it’s that they’re afraid to get sick and die.
Remember those ancient days, when it was so normal to catch the flu “that’s going around” and then be back at work in no time?
The coronavirus has redefined that flu “that’s going around.”
Now, we’re afraid that touching a door handle at a Starbucks, or a plate in a restaurant or a pump at a gas station or even a piece of mail at our front doors may lead to a deadly infection.
We’re afraid that if someone coughs or sneezes within 10 feet of us, or within a few aisles of us at the supermarket, a lethal microbe might be unleashed in the air that will find its way to our lungs.
This pulsating and pervasive fear of dying, notwithstanding the sophisticated reports from economists and health experts, is the core issue of the crisis. Better testing and tracing and more ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment are important, yes, but until the words “coronavirus” and “death” are no longer spoken in the same breath, no real progress can be expected in the return to normalcy.
We can’t wait for a vaccine; that takes too long. The immediate priority is to develop a treatment that will vastly improve the chances of survival.
“A vaccine is a ways off, but effective treatments need not be,” Yuval Levin wrote on April 9 in Atlantic magazine. “Drugs that help give those with the most acute cases of COVID-19 a much better chance of recovering would be transformative in our fight against the pandemic.”
Levin, a scholar at The American Enterprise Institute and one of my favorite thinkers, emphasized the urgency: “The difference that having a drug available this summer rather than next year could make, in the lives of patients and the health of our economy, would be beyond measure.”
The good news, Levin writes, is that “America’s extraordinary biomedical-research sector is unmatched in the world, which means that any treatment is most likely to come from the United States. The federal government will need to both clear the way and pave a path for that effort.”
Unfortunately, he says, our government has shown “a marked lack of urgency on this front.”
Indeed, how tragic that we could allocate $2 trillion in emergency aid and not have a similar level of urgency to find a treatment.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic that threatens countless lives,” Levin writes, “and our response to it threatens economic ruin. An effective drug for those who are most endangered would dramatically alter these circumstances.
“The FDA should treat its role in facilitating our response to this disaster as the single most important task it has confronted in its history. And enabling the rapid development of a safe and effective treatment must be at the top of its agenda.”
Here’s a suggestion: Instead of these nightly news conferences at the White House with experts standing glumly behind a blustering president, why don’t they all walk over to a “crisis room” and iron out a plan that will make finding an effective treatment to COVID-19 the nation’s top priority.
Nobody leaves the room until the plan is finalized and all the players have their marching orders. Order pizza.
Mr. President, if you care about your legacy, not to mention re-election in the fall, you must instantly pivot from MAGA to MASA: Make America Safe Again.
These blundering remarks about disinfectants and your hyping of treatments that have no scientific basis are counterproductive; they convey the impression that your interest is more in PR spin than in getting results.
Your country needs you not on stage in front of cameras, but backstage in a war room. We need you to use your immense executive powers to urgently “clear the way and pave a path” to finding an effective treatment. Nothing good can happen—to our economy or to our society—until that treatment is found and people feel safe leaving their homes.
Give your team all the money and resources it needs. Make personal calls to streamline the bureaucracy and ensure everyone is cooperating. Talk to the top people in the biomedical-research sector. Set an aggressive goal of achieving a promising result by the 4th of July. Instead of checking in constantly on cable-news shows, check in constantly on the team’s progress.
Forget political mudslinging, silly preening about ratings and the exhausting bickering with the media. These pandemic times are not normal. Your actions must change accordingly. It’s do or die time.
We know you love your country. Right now, your fellow Americans are afraid of dying. Concentrate your energy on the urgent, historic task of finding a treatment that will save lives and help restart our economy. And don’t get impatient if nobody is watching.
Look at it this way: If your team succeeds, when you announce the results, your ratings will be bigger than the Super Bowl.
Then you can preen all you want.
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.
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