These are times that try men’s souls. The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst natural disaster since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. As of March 25 there have been 436,843 cases worldwide, 19,656 deaths, and 13,278 people are currently in serious or critical condition.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have shown true leadership in the face of this insidious and lethal enemy. Special kudos to Prime Minister Netanyahu for being the first to describe the fight against the COVID-19 virus as a “war.” Israel knows a thing or two about survival with existential threats surrounding the small country. Netanyahu has been unfairly attacked by his critics and opponents—he fully realized early on that this was a life-and-death struggle in which unity of purpose and focus was and is essential. Israel has to be a light unto the nations; its prime minister has done his part well.
Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva has shipped 10 million doses of Hydroxychloroquine to America. Gilead, another Israeli company, has been at the forefront of production of antivirals and has been testing Remdesivir against the COVID-19 virus. Many who have received it on a compassionate-use basis have recovered, including the case report from Washington State a few weeks ago in The New England Journal of Medicine. I have spent hours on end trying to get Remdesivir for critically ill coronavirus patients.
Another Israeli company, Sight Diagnostics, is now testing a two-drop pin-prick blood test to determine if one had or has the virus at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center. If this test works out it will be a game changer. Netanyahu on March 21 and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 24 both mentioned the importance of antibody testing via a blood test so that we can figure out who had the virus and who may yet get it. This is a crucial determination.
Another Israeli establishment, Migal Galilee Research Institute, formerly under the Israeli Defense Ministry, has been using work carried out over the past four years to develop a vaccine for avian coronavirus to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. It has not yet been deemed safe or effective but clinical trials are beginning.
Trump has shown true leadership in this most difficult of times. He has assembled an effective Task Force and brought the private sector into the fight like nobody’s business. His embrace of the private sector has been outstanding and extraordinary. He has been a commander in chief in this war against an invisible enemy.
And it is a war; If, God forbid, even one percent (hopefully it will be much lower) of coronavirus patients die there will be more U.S. fatalities than were caused by actual shooting wars. We all hope and pray it will not come to this. The case fatality rate continues to drop here not only because of increased testing but because of excellent medical care and treatment in America. Yes, more respirators and medications are badly needed, especially in hard-hit areas like New York and the metro area. New treatments for all viral disease will be developed down the road because of this crisis, just as they were after the AIDS epidemic.
In order to move forward and end the shutdown, I suggest that the president mandate that everyone wear an N95 mask (as cumbersome as it may be) and face shield (ultimately this will be possible, although it is not as of today) just as has been done in China and South Korea. An N95 mask and face shield for every American should be our goal.
Obviously, all of the other Centers for Disease Control recommendations must be heeded, including frequent hand washing. But just as physicians, nurses and healthcare workers have to wear masks and face shields, so should workers in grocery stores and pharmacies, etc. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of N95 masks. The president is on the right track to be seeking to end the lockdowns as soon as possible. Having enough masks, I believe, will make this even more feasible. Many other factors, like having an antibody test, will help as well.
Both the president and the prime minister are doing as much as is humanly possible amid the current crisis. Many lives will be saved because of their profound leadership skills and experience. They deserve our thanks and appreciation above all else.
Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.