How to End the Shutdown

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Posted: Apr 08, 2020 12:01 AM
How to End the Shutdown

Source: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

President Donald Trump is hinting at a second task force responsible for getting Americans back to work. Appoint it now, Mr. President. Don't wait until the virus peaks. This second task force should prepare the country to reopen, with new tools to fight the virus.

The president's top epidemiologist, the esteemed Anthony Fauci, insists "the best tool we have" is "physical separation." But mandating that people stay home is costing Americans their jobs and will force businesses into bankruptcy. The nation needs an alternative strategy.

A chorus of government health officials and academics, like Harvard's Marc Lipsitch, want the shutdown continued until the virus is gone or a vaccine is developed. They're well-meaning but out of touch. No wonder. Their paychecks continue to roll in, even during a shutdown.

Meanwhile, blue-collar workers and business owners are hammered. It's possible the virus will stay with us, and become seasonal, Fauci warns. And a vaccine will take at least 18 months.

This second task force needs to cut red tape and speed approvals for new drugs, making coronavirus a treatable disease by summer. That's a real possibility, not wishful thinking.

Several drugs are already being tested on patients, including antiviral medicines. As former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explains, the key is getting the FDA to review how patients are responding in real time, rather than waiting for the trials to end.

Since taking office, Trump has worked to speed up the FDA's bureaucratic, risk-averse and slow drug approval process. He's pushing even harder now.

Trump's under attack for pressuring the FDA to allow doctors to try hydroxychloroquine combined with the antibiotic azithromycin, although both drugs are already in use for other maladies. In a French clinical trial, the combo worked on coronavirus, but critics object that study wasn't large enough. That's a legitimate concern in ordinary times.

"The president is short-circuiting the process," protests Jeffrey Flier, former Harvard Medical School dean. The process? In a pandemic, patients can't wait.

State Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Ohio, wants to charge Trump with "crimes against humanity" for pushing a drug that hasn't been tested for coronavirus patients. Patients think he deserves a medal.

A second task force also needs to ramp up production and distribution of rapid tests. It's key to reopening workplaces, including assembly lines and office settings. Walmart is taking employees' temperatures, but that is hit or miss because many infected people have no fever. Broad distribution of the Abbott five-minute test could be a game changer. So could the new Ortho Clinical Diagnostics blood test, already in mass production, which will tell people if they have antibodies to the virus and are probably immune.

The new task force's third job is to shrink the shutdown to where it's actually needed. Not every part of America is enduring the medical carnage of New York. But shutdown pain is everywhere. On Friday, first-time unemployment benefit applications hit an all-time high nationwide.

University of Texas professor Lauren Ancel Meyers is urging all counties in the nation to shutdown. Meyers' approach is typical, ignoring the human cost of closing the economy. She warns that in counties with no reported cases, there's still a 9% chance of an outbreak. Maybe so, but shutting down comes with a 100% chance of destroying Main Street and costing people their livelihoods, and some even their lives.

Likewise, Fauci is urging Americans to stick with the shutdown. "It's inconvenient," he says, but it's "the answer to our problems." "Inconvenient" is the wrong word. The shutdown is a killer.

Sweden is battling this virus successfully, including protecting the elderly, without shutting down, according to a report in National Review. Anders Tegnell, Sweden's chief epidemiologist, explains that "unemployed people are a great threat to public health."

Trump's Task Force deserves enormous thanks for marshaling resources to equip our hospitals and man the front lines. Now it's time for a second task force to rescue America from the shutdown.

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York. Contact her at betsy@betsymccaughey.com. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.