On December 31, 2019, Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization of an outbreak of what was to become COVID-19.
Fast forward to early April 2020. Just as with other popular TV shows, oftentimes surrounded likewise by favorite snacks and beverages, each day now we social-distancing-shelter-in-place millions gather before high-definition screens to tune in to the White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. To watch and listen to this supposedly August group of authorities, led by its white-coiffured chair, our pious vice president unable to refrain from prefacing virtually every one of his sentences with gushing praise and effusive tribute to his boss, in turn a former reality-TV-star-cum-president who, typically, also takes his place on stage during the time slot.
This increasingly famous "task force" counts among its members two oft-seen medical doctors: the first, a female immunologist with a colorful collection of scarves; the other, an elder gentleman and infectious disease specialist who, as regards the current pathogenic scourge, was as wrong as wrong can be. So much for experience and judgment. Talk about dropping the ball. Their in-person audience is comprised mostly of members of the national media, several (sometimes all) of whom suffer varying levels of adverse relationship with the dependably narcissistic and cranky commander in chief. Per extant recommendations of the expert Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (whose inexcusably faulty initial kits delayed crucial testing several weeks and thereby allowed the lethal microbe to achieve further exponential gains), these assorted journalists and reporters are positioned mostly (though not always) six feet apart, such that the potentially toxic exhaled gas of one is not taken up by the innocent inhalation of another.
And so the drama begins, as breathlessly we await to see if this fiasco will grow or abate. We are told the latest. Which only leads to another day of heartbreak and embarrassment for the United States.
Regarding protection, for instance, we are informed that our country is unable to supply enough face masks to our at-risk medical professionals (much less the populace at large). Notwithstanding that this highly likely possibility of pandemic was known many months—if not years—ago. Too bad. The anxiety swirls stronger in our stomachs. These are the acclaimed respirator "N95s," so named because (with appropriate legal disclaimer) they block at least 95% of 0.3 micron particulate. In normal times, they retail for around $.50-$1.00 apiece, but are now completely unavailable to the average person. And although the federal government has no difficulty finding and hounding and quite energetically threatening people by mail to complete the 2020 census, lifesaving masks it cannot send. It somehow remains unable (or unwilling) to do what is necessary to manufacture or otherwise acquire this simple item to protect us. Providing such should have been among the first steps taken by any prudent government. Expeditiously sending one—free of charge—to each of America's approximately 330 million citizens would have cost a mere $165-$330 million (far less if negotiated in bulk, probably close to wholesale), plus postage, the grand total a pathetic pittance compared to what this catastrophe is going to end up costing us (the first trillions of dollars are only the very beginning of it).
Regarding testing, we are next informed that our country is yet unable to perform accurate antibody tests in any meaningful amount. Such tests would identify those numerous individuals who have already been infected by the coronavirus but recovered, thereby gaining nature's immunity. This information would be extremely valuable, as these people could at once rejoin the workforce; further, they could be recruited to fill essential positions (and be paid commensurately) during the pendency of the crisis. This would greatly benefit all of us, as well as the economy, and should already have been happening. That it still is not is simply one more pivotal failure.
Regarding hospital ICU equipment, we are then told that our country lacks a sufficient number of ventilators to pump life-giving air into the struggling lungs of those critically-ill patients projected to require such. Hence our "ethicists" spend their time drafting guidance protocols—little decision trees, with underlying "value" assumptions—identifying who among us should live and who should die. A mortal rating scale. Here we have failed both in our preparedness and our ingenuity. And are thus reduced to soliciting charity, begging others for these necessary machines. Gratefully do we accept them when donated by China. All while the "task force" at the podium drones on with further inane advice and excuses, spouting the same bits about PPE and epidemiological curve-flattening and persistent hand washing and avoiding grocery shopping, while dropping hints of attempted price gouging by America's biggest corporations.
Finally, as regards drug therapy, there is talk of assorted this and that but no real news. In any event, any fruition of such efforts are months away. Leading our leader (who, of course, is not a physician) to openly prescribe a yet unproven malaria drug because "what do you have to lose." Talk about desperation. I may take it, he quips. I sincerely doubt it.
There was a time once when this nation faced a different kind of emergency. A period, like this, of great danger and disruption. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents rallied and averted disaster, achieving what no one thought possible: splitting the atom. This monumental effort was reflected in something called the Manhattan Project. We should follow its model of national, single-minded focus now. Because the only solution to this COVID-19 problem is a medical one. Repeat: It is our only solution.
What is required is the rapid and aggressive implementation and application of our best science, which must begin this very second. Rather than further extending our mismanaged endeavors to date, stumbling and flailing about, often blindly, bumbling along what has so far been but an ineffective patchwork path, employing a jumble of mediocre approaches and frequently contradictory and illogical measures, tendering random hypotheses and fruitless theories and conducting a hodgepodge of ultimately useless and redundant experiments while otherwise wasting precious time, simultaneously allowing the process to be infected by a separate plague of secret and competing interests from a plethora of unrelated companies and disparate organizations, all such behaviors should be instantly terminated. And the proper steps promptly taken, all legitimate efforts consolidated, converted and combined, into one massive, centrally-coordinated, national undertaking by America (if not humanity) as a whole. The research and development should be led by a full fleet of intelligent, imaginative, trustworthy scientific superstars, first-rate minds taken from academia, government, and the private sector, our top talent and know-how, with none driven by politics, personal profit, or self-interest, but instead the common good. Such work must commence right now, in a concerted atmosphere of urgency and camaraderie, proceeding nonstop, 24-7, the laboratory lights burning all night long, all information to be shared, as well as all resources and results, aimed toward the same, singular goal of scientifically destroying or otherwise neutralizing this virus. What was formerly thought impossible must here become the new possible. Let's title it the Coronavirus Project. Give the operation its own name. Initial-cap both words to underscore the seriousness.
The Coronavirus Project would have a dual mission: a Therapy Team charged with immediately discovering a successful medical treatment for the "invisible enemy," plus a Vaccine Team tasked with speedily developing a powerful man-made immunizing compound. All prior timelines, expectations, and bureaucratic or other limitations should be trashed, for we need answers yesterday. This is the moment for a paradigm shift. Can American science meet this challenge? That remains unknown, but if we don't change our approach, few would dispute that the consequences are grim. Keep in mind that victory—or defeat—is sometimes also a choice. And so I submit that this is less an issue of technology than one of will and creative thinking. We must act quickly. And boldly. Before it is too late. Before the American psyche is so permanently damaged by this continuing gross incompetence and daily humiliation that the lasting effects of such echo miserably and forever among our descendants.
If China has not already supplanted America as the world's most capable and influential nation, then that day may not be far away. My father, an extremely smart and decent man whom I miss more each day, held an important scientific position in the federal government prior to his death a few years ago. I was with him when he died. We proudly placed an American flag over his body. If I could speak to him now, he would not believe what was going on.
© 2020 Kyle Doda