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We need to come together and do what it takes to stop COVID, and save lives.

Of all the nations in the world, we’ve had the most deaths from COVID-19. More than 230,000 Americans have died, and the virus is currently spreading out of control in most states across the country.

We can’t go on like this. Unless we start to get our priorities straight, the death toll could approach 400,000 by February — almost the same as the number of Americans killed in World War II.

If we ever want to get this virus under control, and get some semblance of our lives back, we have to start doing things differently, and our leaders need to help us make the collective sacrifices it will take to save the lives of our family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

Matt Wellington, public health campaign director, appeared on MSNBC to show that more than 1,000 health professionals signed an open letter urging President Trump and state governors to take immediate action in order to save lives.
Stay home, slow the spread

We need to acknowledge what we’ve done wrong. A new study estimates that up to 210,000 Americans out of the more than 230,000 killed by COVID-19 wouldn’t have died if our national response had been as fast and as effective as other similarly wealthy countries.

We can’t afford to make that mistake again. Our top priority has to be doing whatever we need to do to get our caseloads down. That means making the hard choice to shut down wherever and whenever the virus is spreading out of control. And unfortunately, right now that means most of the country. We should also do the simple thing that we know can curb the virus’s spread: mandating and enforcing mask-wearing outside whenever physical distancing isn’t possible, and at all times when indoors. By closing non-essential businesses, ensuring people stay home, and enforcing mask-wearing we can effectively slow the transmission of this virus and prevent thousands more from dying.

No doubt shutting down will be extremely difficult, and require real sacrifice from everyone. Our state leaders are under enormous pressure from people arguing that shutting down our economy will cause more suffering, or that the economic cost is just too high a price to pay. Saving lives has got to be our top priority, and what’s more, leading economists have gone on record arguing that the only way to restore the economy is by addressing the pandemic itself. Policymakers should provide financial relief for Americans to be able to stay home so that we can slow the spread.

A clear path to recovery

To defeat COVID-19 and get our country back on the road to recovery, we need to follow through on what public health professionals have been saying all along: Get cases extremely low, and then keep them that way through an aggressive testing, tracing and isolation protocol. Given the wholly inadequate federal response to date, this means we need our governors to dramatically ramp up testing and contact tracing. In most states that means doing 5 or even 10 times as much testing as is being done now. 

States need to commit to hitting the targets that the experts at the Brown School of Public Health and the Harvard Global Health Institute say we need to achieve to suppress the virus. And test results need to be available within 48 hours, so we can trace infections back to their source and contain outbreaks before they happen. The federal government certainly should do what it can to provide the resources and coordination to make this possible. But we can’t afford to wait for Washington — we need our state leaders to take action now.

Our testing infrastructure should also include a workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. Experts say we need at least 100,000 more contact tracers, 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). Many people — medical workers, professional caregivers, grocery clerks and others — do work that is essential, and we need to keep them safe. PPE is one of the most effective tools to slow the spread of COVID-19, and right now we have nowhere near enough of it. 

What it takes to stop COVID and save lives

If we don’t take all of these actions, or stop at half measures, then the consequences will be measured in widespread suffering and death. Few people living today remember what it was like to live through a world war, but that’s what we’re in, and we’re going to have to sacrifice if we want to save ourselves and each other. Just as the greatest generation did, we need to step up to what history has delivered.

That’s why we're organizing an army of medical experts, caregivers, emergency workers and everyday people, calling on our leaders to do what it takes to beat COVID. We’re calling on state and federal lawmakers to tell us the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard; to take bold action to save lives, even when it means shutting down again; to harness our collective resources and provide the testing and contact tracing it will take to contain the virus; and to provide the PPE and other equipment we need to keep health professionals, caregivers and frontline workers safe.