April 2, 2020 - Countries must unite to win “World War C” against the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tom Frieden, MD, former CDC director.
“This is a world war, and the enemy is not people, states or countries but a dangerous microbe. It’s us against the microbes,” Frieden told reporters during a Wednesday news briefing. He led the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
Now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, Frieden outlined a three-phase “adaptive response” to control SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19. The group released guidance on when to loosen restrictions and when to tighten social distancing. Importantly, he said, current stay-in-place restrictions are only the beginning of the fight. He echoes other researchers who say we will need waves of distancing to end the pandemic.
“Everyone wants to know when they can go out again,” he said. “The right question to ask is, ‘What do we have to do right now so we can reopen as soon and as safely as possible?’”
When the number of new cases declines, which Frieden expects to see in coming weeks and months, the U.S. will need to meet three criteria before opening again: know where the virus is and how it is spreading, strengthen health care capacity in hospitals, and ramp up public health capacity through testing and contact tracing. Tracking the virus, he said, is the main factor in preventing reemergence, and it should be ramped up immediately.
“COVID-19 is spreading like super-SARS … and we can only stop it if we get all of the details right,” Frieden said. “Finding and quarantining contacts may seem impossible, but it is necessary.”
When shelter-at-home restrictions are loosened, public spaces should “reopen the faucet gradually” and “not open the floodgates,” he said. Hand sanitizer stations and temperature checks should be at the entrance of every building, and workplaces should implement staggered hours and physical distancing for employees at first. Still, a full reopening is likely months down the road.
“Aggressive and proactive testing and contact tracing are essential to get back to a new normal,” he said. “We’re not going to get back to an old normal … but we need to have tracking and health care systems ready for the new normal to keep cases down.”