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'Shut It Down, Start Over, Do It Right': Medical Experts Urge US Lockdown to Stop Covid-19 Spike

"Our decision-makers need to hit the reset button. Continuing on the path we're on now will result in widespread suffering and death."

Nurses treat a patient at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance on July 20, 2020 in Edinburg, Texas. (Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

More than 150 medical professionals and public health experts are calling on America's political leaders to immediately shut the country down once more—and this time do it properly—in order to stop the spread of Covid-19, which has now infected more than four million people in the U.S. and taken at least 144,000 lives.

"In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. You didn't use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly."

"In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. You didn't use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly," the medical professionals and advocacy group U.S. PIRG wrote in an open letter published this week.

Signatories of the letter include Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, Angela Rasmussen, PhD; William Hanage, PhD; Seth Trueger, MD, MPH; Megan Ranney, MD, MPH; and Saskia Popescu, PhD, MPH.

"Non-essential businesses should be closed," the experts wrote. "Restaurant service should be limited to take-out. People should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to exercise and get fresh air. Masks should be mandatory in all situations, indoors and outdoors, where we interact with others. If you don't take these actions, the consequences will be measured in widespread suffering and death."

The letter comes as new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to spike across the country, forcing states that reopened prematurely and haphazardly to shut down again.

"Our decision-makers need to hit the reset button," Matt Wellington, public health campaigns director at U.S. PIRG, said in a statement. "Continuing on the path we're on now will result in widespread suffering and death. And for what? Health experts laid out criteria for how to reopen safely. It's time to listen to them."

Despite skyrocketing cases, Trump—who has baselessly insisted the virus will simply disappear on its own—proclaimed during a press briefing Thursday that "we've had a tremendous week uniting the country in our fight" against Covid-19.

"We're doing very well all over the country," Trump said shortly after the U.S. surpassed four million confirmed Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations neared a record high.

In their open letter, the medical professionals presented a far less rosy—and more evidence-based—picture of the U.S. response to the Covid-19 pandemic compared to that of other advanced nations.

"More than 117,000 Americans had died of Covid-19 by mid-June," the experts wrote. "If our response had been as effective as Germany's, estimates show that we would have had only 36,000 Covid-19 deaths in that period in the United States. If our response had been as effective as South Korea, Australia, or Singapore's, fewer than 2,000 Americans would have died. We could have prevented 99% of those Covid-19 deaths. But we didn't."

The letter urged U.S. political leaders to abandon their failed approach to containing the virus and "take bold action to save lives—even when it means shutting down again."

"Shut it down, start over, do it right," the medical professionals demanded. "Unleash the resources needed to contain the virus: massively ramping up testing, building the necessary infrastructure for effective contact tracing, and providing a safety net for those who need it. Many of the actions of our government thus far have fallen short of what the moment demands. Mr. Trump, federal administration, honorable governors: we remind you that history has its eyes on you."

Dear decision makers, 

Hit the reset button.

Of all the nations in the world, we’ve had the most deaths from Covid-19. At the same time, we’re in the midst of "reopening our economy," exposing more and more people to coronavirus and watching numbers of cases— and deaths—skyrocket

In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. You didn’t use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly. 

Right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st. Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but non-essential activities. 

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Get our priorities straight. 

More than 117,000 Americans had died of Covid-19 by mid-June. If our response had been as effective as Germany's, estimates show that we would have had only 36,000 Covid-19 deaths in that period in the United States. If our response had been as effective as South Korea, Australia, or Singapore’s, fewer than 2,000 Americans would have died. We could have prevented 99% of those Covid-19 deaths. But we didn't. 

The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it's to save as many lives as possible. And reopening before suppressing the virus isn't going to help the economy. Economists have gone on record saying that the only way to "restore the economy is to address the pandemic itself," pointing out that until we find a way to boost testing and develop and distribute a vaccine, open or not, people will not be in the mood to participate. 

Listen to the experts. 

Public health professionals have made clear that even after we’ve contained the virus by staying at home, in order to reopen American cities and towns safely, we will need:

— Enough daily testing capacity to test everyone with flu-like symptoms plus anyone they have been in close contact with over the last 2 weeks (at least 10 additional tests per symptomatic person). We currently have only 35% of the testing capacity we need to meet that threshold. The more people get sick, the more testing is required. 

— A workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. That’s 210,000 more contact tracers than we had in April, but the number keeps going up as infections rise. Most states are far short of the number of contact tracers they need. 

In addition, we need more personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep essential workers like health professionals, emergency responders, and grocery store clerks safe.

Shut it down now, and start over.

Non-essential businesses should be closed. Restaurant service should be limited to take-out. People should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to exercise and get fresh air. Masks should be mandatory in all situations, indoors and outdoors, where we interact with others. 

We need that protocol in place until case numbers recede to a level at which we have the capacity to effectively test and trace. Then, and only then, we can try a little more opening, one small step at a time. 

You should bar non-essential interstate travel. When people travel freely between states, the good numbers in one state can go bad quickly. 

If you don't take these actions, the consequences will be measured in widespread suffering and death. 

We need you to lead. 

Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it's hard. Take bold action to save lives—even when it means shutting down again. 

Unleash the resources needed to contain the virus: massively ramping up testing, building the necessary infrastructure for effective contact tracing, and providing a safety net for those who need it. 

Many of the actions of our government thus far have fallen short of what the moment demands. Mr. Trump, federal administration, honorable governors: we remind you that history has its eyes on you.

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