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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Health experts call for aggressive actions to halt COVID

Hundreds of scientists and health experts are urging Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to take more aggressive action to stamp out coronavirus.

An open letter to Northam calls for the following “low-cost, high-impact actions to zero out COVID-19 in Virginia”:
  • Empower local governments
  • Maximize social distancing
  • Require mask usage
  • Deploy approaches that have worked elsewhere to scale up testing
  • Leverage volunteers to cheaply scale up contact tracing
  • Convert unused college dormitories into voluntary isolation facilities
  • Implement “safe travel” rules to prevent importation of new cases.
The letter was signed by 337 public health experts, physicians, biologists, medical faculty, healthcare workers, public policy experts, business owners, and members of the general public.

The letter was circulated by Virginia members of the End Coronavirus Now network. The network believes that aggressive actions over a five week-period would not only flatten the curve, they would “completely crush the curve.”

The letter says Northam’s March 30 stay-at-home order is saving lives, but “even more actions will be needed before we can safely reopen Virginia.”

The group points to the success of Taiwan and South Korea, which only have a few new COVID cases a day now and no cases on some days. “Virginia can replicate their success with the right policies. And that means Virginia will get back to work and become a model for the rest of our country,” it states.

Noting that counties and cities suffering the most from COVID lack the legal authority to take independent action, the letter recommends local governments be empowered to make and enforce additional rules on social distancing, masks, and mandatory quarantines for outside visitors.

Related story: Virginia could begin easing COVID restrictions May 8 at the earliest

The letter calls for Virginia to require cloth face masks in public spaces such as supermarkets and common areas of apartment buildings, and says building staff should enforce the rule – not police. It says authorities should provide free masks at key locations, such as supermarkets, and to low-income and high-risk individuals.

To cheaply scale up testing, the letter calls for the use of CT scans, which have a low false positive rate. Tens of thousands can be done per day with existing equipment. Testing should be done for everyone with cold or flu-like symptoms, workers in high-risk jobs, and members of the general population, including individuals who live in high-risk settings, such as nursing homes and prisons.

“We need an army of at least 1,000 paid contact tracers,” the group says, but if that is not feasible, “volunteer contact tracers can make a significant dent in infections.”

Because most coronavirus infections occur within families, the group urges the state to convert unused college dormitories into voluntary isolation facilities. Anyone with a dedicated bedroom and bathroom in their own home and not requiring medical care can isolate at home.

Housing others who test positive for COVID and can’t be isolated at home in college dorms “will dramatically reduce the number of cases and dramatically shorten the time we spend under lockdown.”

The letter also urges a mandatory 14-day quarantine for most out-of-state visitors, with exceptions for shipments of goods and other critical travel.

“Implementing a stay-at-home order without travel restrictions is like to trying to drain a bathtub while the faucet is running,” the letter states. It calls for the state to “curtail nonessential air and highway travel so that progress in reducing cases is not undermined by newly introduced ones.”

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