Coronavirus pandemic: Top US doctor calls for 14-day nationwide quarantine as virus hits every American state
Dr Ashish Jha from Harvard Global Health Institute has said that a two-week national pause is needed now to figure out how many are infected in the US
As the new coronavirus hits every state in the US, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute has called for a nationwide quarantine for 14 days in a bid to get a grip on the pandemic.
Dr Ashish Jha, a practicing physician, tweeted from his official handle explaining what he meant. “National quarantine? Sounds scary. Let me explain. All non-essential activities should cease. Keep grocery stores, pharmacies open. Implement for 2 weeks while we ramp up testing After 2 weeks, assess # of cases, where they are in US and decide what next based on evidence,” he said.
He warned that if the US government does not implement stricter measures across the country now, it will be forced to do so later for much longer and many more people will die.
“I don't say this lightly. And when I am watching the data, America, we are up to 4,500 cases. Most experts I talk to, and my own guess is we probably have 30,000-40,000 Americans infected right now and it's growing exponentially. And our hospitals and emergency rooms are not ready,” said Dr Jha during an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe on March 17.
Dr Jha said that the US now has two choices. “Basically we can either have a national quarantine now, two weeks, get a grip on where things are, and then reassess. Or we cannot, wait another week and when things look really terrible, be forced into it and that's going to last much longer, many more people will die. So those are our two choices, get ahead of it or wait until when we're even further behind,” said Dr Jha.
According to the latest estimates, over 6,360 cases have been reported in US, and over 108 have died across its 50 states.
In a worst-case scenario projection for the US, experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have estimated that 160 million to 214 million Americans could be infected in the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, the US has around 924,107 staffed beds in all hospitals, and an estimated 100,000 ventilators, or even less. On a normal day, the occupancy rate of hospital beds in the US is about 65.5%, shows an estimate by the CDC.
Need national pause to get ahead of the tsunami
Dr Jha explained that such quarantine is going to look like it is Italy, essential services will sell in groceries and pharmacies. “But non-essential stuff, people will have to stay at home, no public gatherings, certainly no bars and no restaurants,” he added.
The expert acknowledged that such a measure is going to be very hard and economically very tough. “But the alternative is economically even more devastating. So I think we are between a rock and a hard place. We gotta make the right call,” hs said.
He said that even under “very rosy scenarios, if we do nothing, most hospitals in America will get overwhelmed. Hospitals will have too many cases and not have enough beds, or ICU beds. Every hospital has to be canceling all elective cases, strategizing for how you keep COVID-19 and no-COVID-19 patients separated, and really thinking about how to expand capacity substantially.”
Dr Jha emphasized, “If we overreact, we're going to waste some money. If we underreact, we are going to count our loses, and lives, and money. This to me is not a close call. We have to get much more serious than what we are.”
He said that right now, because the US does not have enough tests, it is not clear how many Americans are infected. “Everybody says we are two weeks behind Italy. I don't know if we are two weeks behind Italy. We may be much closer to Italy because we are not testing adequately.”
He further said, “So, what I would like is for us to take big pause, two weeks. During that time, ramp up testing, get all the people who need to be tested, tested. At that point, we will have a much better grip on how extensive the infections are, which communities are really affected. We will have time to strategize and plan. Then we can come back and say how do we bend this curve, how do we get off this, what is right now a tsunami in front of us, how do we get ahead of it,” he said.
The Trump administration issued new guidelines on March 16, asking all Americans to avoid social gatherings and groups of more than 10 people, not just in bars and restaurants, but also at home. The guidelines -- effective for 15 days -- urge older Americans to stay home and calls for homeschooling.
During the briefing, the Trump administration clarified that it is currently not considering the type of nationwide lockdown or nationwide quarantine that has been implemented in some European countries. "At this point, not nationwide…we may look at certain areas, certain hotspots, as they call them. We'll be looking at that, but at this moment, no, we're not," US President Donald Trump said in a reply to a query on nationwide quarantine.
The CDC also issued new guidelines on March 15 that recommend canceling all events that consist of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks across the US.
Many states such as California, Illinois and Ohio have called for full closure of all bars in their respective states. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have also decided to shut down its its bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and casinos to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has, however, warned that quarantines and social distancing measures alone will not be able to ‘extinguish’ the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO Director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing on March 16 that while there has also been a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, there has not been an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing – which is the backbone of the COVID-19 response.
Dr Jha said, “We are still way behind the curve in terms of where we need to be on testing. We probably should be doing a 100,000 or 150,000 tests a day, maybe even more. But (I am) just starting to see a little progress (in the US).”