Saturday, April 18, 2020

Staying informed and in my lane

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, it strikes me as very obvious that we stay informed and that we exercise caution until an adequate treatment or preferably a vaccine can be made available to the public. Like many nations affected by this virus, the various states in the US imposed some form of social distancing starting in march. Some states have been more lenient than others, which is not necessarily a good thing. One of my main concerns is that testing is ramped up so that we can get a better handle on how many people are actually infected, as well as adequate testing to see who might have been infected but missed. Adequate testing and what medical experts call a system of track and trace is critical to allowing us to return to at least some of the activities we have taken for granted.

I would also exercise caution when it comes to consuming research into potential treatments. I am aware that there are many preprints and peer review articles circulating in which results of research on potential treatments have been made available. One treatment Trump was pushing over the past weeks was based on an arguably poorly conducted study, that is now being investigated by the study's publisher. There is even research suggesting that the lethality of COVID-19 is far less than we might have initially feared, although that work too is seriously flawed.

Note, I am saying this as simply a concerned citizen who happens to have a social science background. I am not an epidemiologist nor a medical expert of any sort. I am relying on those who do have expertise, and I will make that my recommendation for anyone else. I am perfectly happy to pass along information that is based on sound science, in the hopes that doing so saves lives and allows us to safely go about our lives as best we can. In the meantime, I now work strictly from home, and will do so at least through the summer sessions at my university. I would love to be in my office again - far fewer distractions - but right now doing so is a really awful idea, and the leadership in my university system agrees. There are circumstances that would lead to a return to work as I normally understand it, but those circumstances would require a significant ramp-up in testing, which regrettably did not happen during the last month. We seem to have plateaued at around 140,000 tests per day. Apparently we need to be closer to 800,000 tests per day to keep up with the pace of testing per capita that South Korea (which has been very successful in minimizing infected patients and deaths) has managed. In theory, whatever social distancing restrictions were applied across the US would have bought time for a coordinated Federal Government effort to supply states with the tests they need. That did not happen. Efforts to re-open various businesses, parks, etc., will carry far greater risk as a result. The last thing any of us want is for a new upsurge in cases. In the meantime, stay safe.