“We need a national pause”, Targets October to reopen the country

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You’ve likely seen Dr. Peter Hotez on cable news channels. He’s a professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He is also co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Hotez is based out of Houston. He sounds the alarm on our inability as a country to deal with the coronavirus.

Dr. Hotez gave an interview published online in the Houston Chronicle on Friday afternoon. He has a plan for Texas, and the rest of the country, to be open and mostly back to regular life by October. Heck, there even may be football, too. There’s a catch, though, as you knew there probably is. The country is going to have to shut back down. All the states, not just Texas, with some flexibility in states where outbreaks aren’t so bad. He published a piece titled “COVID-19 in America: An October Plan” last week in the journal Microbes and Infection. He sent a copy of his plan to some colleagues in the White House. His point is that there has to be a national plan because “leaving it to the governors has failed.”

The closest thing we have to a national plan right now is to say, we’re going to let the individual states take the lead. They make the decisions on what needs to be done. Then the U.S, government provides some of the backup support — for FEMA, supply-chain management, and making ventilators and healthcare professionals available on an emergency basis.

That’s not working. No. 1, the states just don’t have the epidemiological horsepower. They don’t know how to manage this epidemic.

No. 2, the states need the political cover of the CDC. They need the political cover of the federal government. They’re being buffeted by all these forces that are telling them to just open up. They need to be able to say, “Look, I hear what you’re saying. I know why you’re not happy with this. But the CDC is saying if we don’t do x, y and z, this many Texans are going to die.”

He mostly focuses on Texas but wants a national plan put in place because state lines don’t keep the virus out. He recently criticized the Trump administration for delivering “misinformation” on CNN. I don’t think it’s a leap to conclude that Hotez isn’t much of a supporter of the Trump administration. And, I seriously doubt that a plan that calls for states to shut down, even for six to eight weeks, is going to go very far in the White House. That’s the last thing Trump wants as he faces a November election date.

Hotez acknowledges that Texas looks to have hit a plateau but the plateau is at a high level. Mitigation is preventing acceleration but it isn’t enough. “So we might have to do a full shutdown in Texas. Maybe not for long — but at least to get it to the point where we can do contact tracing and all the things that will prevent the resurgence.” He says that Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida should also do the same, maybe even Arizona. Other states, though may not have to take such an extreme step.

The point is, you have to do it across the nation. Different states might take different measures, depending on how bad things are in each of them right now. But the point is to bring us all back down to the same level.

Then you can safely start opening up the nation.

The thing is, Houston has pretty much gone back to the lockdown stage anyway. The next step would have to be to completely shut everything down all the way as happened the first time around but that’s pretty hard to imagine. Governor Abbott already shut down the bars and limited restaurants to 25% occupancy capacity. Would Texans accept another complete shut down now? What about the other states? Maybe it is because I’ve continued to live as though the full shutdown is in effect and I probably suffer from pandemic brain but that doesn’t sound like a practical solution. Hotez says if Texas (and other states) put a full shutdown in place for six to eight weeks, the state could reopen by October with everyone enjoying a much more normal life.

The big problem Hotez addresses are schools opening back up. He’s against it, as you might imagine after reading he wants full shutdowns in place.

School teachers and staff are in a panic about having to return under the current circumstances, and I think they’re absolutely right. They shouldn’t have be forced to return to work. They’re going to get sick.

We’re setting up our teachers to fail. We’re setting up our healthcare professionals to fail. We just can’t do this anymore.

Kids over the age of 10 can “transmit this virus very efficiently”, even the younger ones do but just not as efficiently. So, the teachers would become infected and going further, the kiddos would also infect bus drivers, all the adults coming in and out of schools, and even vendors. He notes that if a couple of teachers get sick in a school, that school likely would close so why do it in the first place?

He also doesn’t think that waiting for a vaccine is a reasonable response.

My timeframe has been pretty consistent: sometime by the middle or third quarter of 2021 is when we might have some vaccines available. Dr. Fauci said within the first “few” months of 2021. It’s hard to say what “few” means.

And even when the vaccines are available, if they’re only partially protective, we’ll still need masks and everything else. So we’ve got to figure it out now.

Relying on the vaccine is not is not a viable strategy, and not one that will protect the public.

So, the interview with Hotez wasn’t anymore satisfying than anything else that is being suggested. If we don’t shut it all down again, we’re doomed. The problem is, while he flippantly says it would take a shutdown of “only” six to eight weeks, that is a lot of time for everyone barely holding on now. What will be left to reopen at that point? Somehow we have to learn to live with this coronavirus, protect ourselves and our loved ones, and continue to make a living while doing it.





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