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WASHINGTON -- As extensive media coverage has raised awareness of U.S. PIRG’s open letter sent to President Donald Trump and state governors last week, imploring them to shut back down, start over and do it right to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1,000 health professionals have signed the letter in the past week. A new federal report released this week is also urging 21 states to impose more restrictions to slow outbreaks.
“From epidemiologists to emergency room physicians to mental health professionals, clearly a lot -- and a wide variety -- of health workers agree that our ongoing response to the coronavirus is not working,” said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Director. “We need to listen to these experts and do what they’ve been calling for since COVID-19 started spreading across the U.S. in March -- stay at home, increase testing and tracing, and make sure all our essential workers have personal protective equipment.”
Some of the more prominent and early signers of the letter include: Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD-University of Pennsylvania, Angela Rasmussen, PhD-Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, William Hanage, PhD-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Seth Trueger, MD, MPH-Northwestern University, Megan Ranney, MD, MPH-Brown University & GetUsPPE, and Saskia Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC-University of Arizona.
Unlike in countries that squelched the virus enough so that they can deal with isolated outbreaks, throughout the United States, we reopened non-essential businesses, loosened shelter-in-place orders too quickly, allowed interstate travel and did so without meeting key criteria that health experts laid out to reopen safely. Those criteria, which we need to achieve as soon as possible, include:
- 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). Currently, the U.S. has only 38 percent of the testing capacity it needs to meet that threshold.
- A workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. That’s 210,000 more contact tracers than the totals in April, but the number goes up as cases rise. As of last month, most states were far short of the number of contact tracers they need.
- More personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep essential workers such as health professionals, emergency responders and grocery store clerks safe.
As the open letter states, “Then, and only then, we can try a little more opening, one small step at a time.”
“Telling the hard truths and making the hard calls now will save more lives later. That’s why we’re calling on our leaders to rise up to the challenge. Half measures will only lead to more suffering,” said Wellington.
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