2 Musts for Beating COVID-19: Know Who’s Sick, Provide Places to Recover

COMMENTARY Public Health

2 Musts for Beating COVID-19: Know Who’s Sick, Provide Places to Recover

Aug 21st, 2020 5 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Patrick Tyrrell

Research Coordinator

Patrick Tyrrell is a research coordinator in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for International Trade and Economics.
A "Please Wear A Mask" sign at a market in Brooklyn, NY on August 8, 2020. Erik McGregor / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The prerequisite of having enough testing capability in the early days of the pandemic did not exist because of bureaucratic layers of counterproductive regulations.

There should be places where infected individuals can go to recover where they are apart from the noninfected population.

Stemming the pandemic with private sector funds and resources is in the best interests of all. Conventional wisdom need not be consulted.

A recent special report published by The Heritage Foundation looks at the policy responses several countries have taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The report sheds light on two prerequisites—in the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine or a cure—that countries need to have in place to succeed at turning back the virus.

No. 1: Adequate Testing Ability

If there’s no way of knowing who has the virus and can spread it to others, preventing its spread is much more difficult.

>>> What’s the best way for America to reopen and return to business? The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation, assembled America’s top thinkers to figure that out. So far, it has made more than 260 recommendations. Learn more here.

Those carrying the virus have to be identified through the use of adequate testing

That means not only that tests have to be plentiful enough to be used whenever a coronavirus case is suspected, but also that the tests have to be administered correctly. And there must be enough medical resources in a country to process the tests rapidly for the entire course of the pandemic, especially in its early days.

One reason Iceland and South Korea—two countries The Heritage Foundation’s special report covers—were able to escape a wider-scale outbreak, such as the one that currently rages in the United States, is because Iceland and South Korea tested abundantly right off the bat.

Everyone who was suspected of possibly carrying the virus was given a test, and the test results were processed quickly.

In the United States, the prerequisite of having enough testing capability in the early days of the pandemic did not exist because of bureaucratic layers of counterproductive regulations.

The Heritage Foundation’s special report describes it this way:

One of the main reasons that the United States had difficulty engaging in mass testing early on in the pandemic was that excessive regulation made it very difficult to produce a sufficient number of test kits.

Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has a lengthy approval process to bring any test to market, initially granted emergency use authorization (EUA) only to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and perform COVID-19 tests.

Although universities and the private sector were anxious to develop tests early on, the FDA and CDC warned these entities not to perform their own testing without FDA authorization.

Aside from the fact that the first batch of CDC test kits were faulty, the cumbersome process associated with getting FDA authorization prevented the U.S. from having a [usable] supply of tests.

The gravity of the situation was keenly stated by Heritage health policy expert Bob Moffit, who commented:

The bureaucratic hurdles that in normal times are costly, time-consuming, and just plain annoying to doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals can be downright dangerous when they undercut rapid responsiveness in a national emergency and pose risks to public health and safety.

No. 2: Places to Recover

There should be places where infected individuals can go to recover where they are apart from the noninfected population.

Contagious people carrying the virus who are identified through testing need to be able to live apart from the noninfected while they recover from their illness.

One of the great tragedies in the U.S. as the pandemic unfolded in New York was that Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients.

Many elderly residents were exposed to the virus when these contagious COVID-19 patients did not leave the facilities, and many thousands of New Yorkers died as a result.

Cuomo later expressed “shock” that 66% of New York hospital admissions related to the virus were those who were adhering to the government order to stay in their own homes and “not venture much outside.”

It shouldn’t have shocked anyone.

Staying in one’s home if no one living there has the virus is one thing, but why would the government and its experts order people to do so when no one knows whether others there are sick with COVID-19 or even when other residents are known to be infected?

It can only be chalked up to one of the all-too-frequent failures of conventional wisdom.

The coronavirus spreads most easily indoors and when contact is made with infected persons for longer than brief meetings. Government mandates to stay home with other people who are contagious only make sense if the goal is to have people catch the virus.

With that in mind, Heritage recommends having facilities known as “isolation centers,” where those who have the virus—but who do not require hospitalization—can go voluntarily and live apart from the uninfected population until they recover.

The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation, elaborated:

Excess hotel capacity and other such places may be repurposed as isolation and care facilities. Participation should be voluntary, and policymakers may want to undertake education campaigns to encourage people to use these facilities to protect their families from the pathogen.

The foundering hotel industry could be utilized to designate some hotels as isolation centers, where those whose symptoms are not life-threatening can stay voluntarily until they are no longer shedding virus. 

The cruise ship industry also might be interested in participating by allowing some of its docked cruise ships to be used as isolation centers.   

The Heritage special report advises the Trump administration and state governors to discuss with private insurance companies—as well as with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—the idea of reimbursing patient stays in isolation centers, as they already do for many other medical treatments and procedures.

It would be a surprise if the insurance companies pushed back against this idea. After all, preventing more COVID-19 cases would save health insurance companies money by causing fewer medical insurance claims to be filed. And those infecting others in their own homes often infect family members who are on the same health insurance plans as themselves.

The cost of covering one person’s lodging in an isolation center, rather than being on the hook for the COVID-19-related bills of an entire family, is naturally a preferred choice for a private insurance company and saves taxpayer dollars spent on Medicare and Medicaid.

No one wants to infect others in their family with the potentially deadly coronavirus. With isolation centers available, those with COVID-19 would voluntarily use them, and the languishing hotel and cruise ship industries could use the business.

Stemming the pandemic with private sector funds and resources is in the best interests of all. Conventional wisdom need not be consulted.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal