What will it take for us to feel safe again, safe enough to relax social distancing? Several thoughts come to mind, including a covid-19 vaccination, comprehensive testing for infection and antibodies, robust contact tracing, and a health system that can support the inevitable rise for that that will need treatment.
The good news is that more and more coronavirus vaccines are entering the trial phase, and there are predictions that at least one will be readily available for the public within the next twelve to eighteen months.
There is news that antibody tests, which would identify those that were previously infected but recovered, may be available by May 2020.
President Trump leveraged the defense production act (DPA), compelling captains of industry to manufacture much-needed equipment such as masks, respirators, and ventilators. Hopefully, the health infrastructure will be able to support a less overwhelming demand for treatment, if social distancing helps slow the onslaught of the virus.
The bad news is that vaccines don’t have 100% efficacy. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that the flu vaccine works 40 to 60% of the time.
If plans for a coronavirus immunity registry do materialize, we still don’t know whether the presence of antibodies means definitively that the subject does have immunity, If she does, we don’t know for how long.
Contract tracing would enable health authorities to track those that had been in close proximity to an identified infected person. The idea is that those that were likely close enough to be exposed to the infected would then enter into quarantine. Ideally, the tracing would also identify those that may have also transmitted the virus. The problem is that this works well in authoritarian regimes like China because the citizens have no choice but to comply. American’s may resist what they perceive to be a draconian violation of liberty if the government asks them to use an application on their phone that tracks and reports their GPS location at all times. Additionally, the asymptomatic can shed the virus and infect others and would be under the radar of contact tracing, because they would not need to test.
One way forward, is for us to limit the damage. Testing for the virus and antibodies, contact tracing, and a hospital system that can treat the afflicted. Unfortunately, the horse has left the barn, and we must come to terms with the annual fatalities, no different than we do now with the flu and the HIV.
There is another way that does not infringe on individual liberties; I believe an individual should maintain the right to choose to opt-out of testing and contact tracing. However, that freedom to choose does not imply that you don’t get to contend with the consequences. Employers that seek to protect their employees can require proof of immunity, or an applicant produces evidence of negative coronavirus test results. Entertainment venues such as restaurants or movie theaters can boast that their environments are coronavirus free, simply because they also ask attendees to show test results.
We do have to adopt the precise measures that China and South Korea have taken, but we don’t have to violate rights.
Cecil (CJ) John is an architect, technologist and innovator and has worked with some of the largest companies in the world including the IMF, US Federal Government and some of the top 5 consulting companies. If you like what you have read, you can follow me on Medium for more great content. You can also sign up for my newsletter or contact me by email, Linkedin or Twitter.