To combat the delta variant’s aggressive spread, President Joe Biden announced a new and determined national strategy last week. Among other actions, the administration will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested weekly.
These steps send us in the right direction, and we welcome them.
At the same time, we should see them for what they are: disaster relief in the face of a perfect storm.
As we move forward, it’s important to reflect on the reasons why this storm could have been avoided – and how the next one can be prevented.
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During the summer of 2020, we at the Association of American Medical Colleges published a comprehensive road map to reset our nation’s approach to the pandemic. It was the product of what we – as care providers, medical educators and researchers battling COVID-19 across the country – were learning on the front lines.
This road map called for the federal government and states to develop a plan for diagnostics, face coverings, vaccinations and other public health tools to end the pandemic. The plan would depend on partnerships among public health officials, test developers, clinical labs, researchers and health care providers. We knew that working together was the only way to achieve realistic national goals, standards and strategies.
Yet, one year later, the lack of coordination has not been sufficiently addressed. The administration’s plan will not fully address it, either. That failure, coupled with the conflicting information – even misinformation – put out by officials, are again pulling us backward.
The nation urgently needs what has been lacking to date: proactive coordination, preparation and well-targeted investments in public health. And it needs something else that has been in short supply: the political courage at every level to do all that is needed to save lives.
The AAMC Research and Action Institute released a new set of recommendations that can set a better, healthier direction for both the immediate and long term. We identify key steps the government must begin taking now.
The first is transparent, coordinated leadership from the top down.
Coordinated response is needed
Our country’s decentralized approach to power is embedded in our history. It has many strengths, but it is poorly suited to address a pandemic. The Constitution creates our system of dual federalism, but it certainly does not mandate that, in a country where we frequently travel across state lines, we manage a coast-to-coast crisis with the varied health protocols of local and state governments.
In an attempt to coordinate the nation’s response to the pandemic and to ensure that the response is informed by science, the Biden administration has created an office, staffed by experts. This is a welcome step, yet agencies inadvertently continue to create confusion by issuing conflicting or seemingly uncoordinated information.
The country needs a clear center of control across departments and agencies – an office with the authority to direct departments’ actions and align them with the best-known evidence at any given time.
In this way, the White House can ensure there is no difference between the work of federal agencies and the guidance being provided to state officials and the public.
Secure supply chain for emergencies
Second, the federal government must ensure that an effective, transparent supply chain exists for emergency medical resources. The urgent need for a nationwide inventory of emergency medical resources is clear. We need look no further than the many hospitals that are short on the supplies and staff it takes to treat COVID-19 patients while also treating other critically ill patients.
The Biden administration has begun to take more explicit action to rebuild the Strategic National Stockpile. This is absolutely essential. It must be fully supplied at a defined, targeted level, so that hospitals and health care providers never run out of what they need. After the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the government failed to replenish this reserve of critical supplies, like masks and ventilators, costing precious time and lives last year. Let’s not continue to repeat that mistake.
Third, we urge sustained investments in public health and community partnerships to keep everyone safe before, during and after the next public health crisis.
This is especially important in both the urban and rural areas hardest hit by this pandemic. Without more support, marginalized communities will remain at a higher risk of experiencing the effects of “long COVID” and further reductions in life expectancy.
If the federal government invests in community well-being and enhanced demographic data collection, we can begin to build the capacity and trust needed to save lives with all due speed.
Even if COVID-19 were behind us, the United States would need to take these steps to protect against the pandemic of tomorrow. But since COVID-19 is still here, that makes it all the more essential we learn from the hard lessons of the past year and apply them today. Let us begin.
Dr. Atul Grover is executive director of the AAMC Research and Action Institute. Dr. David J. Skorton is a cardiologist and president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Doctors: How to finally end the COVID pandemic in America