Health

The COVID Revolution

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

Today is Day 95 since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US on January 22nd. It is Day 37 since those New Yorkers, who were non-essential workers, were asked to stay at home except for necessary activity. They now must wear masks and practice careful social distancing when they venture outside. We have 18 more days to stay at home in New York until May 15th, when the state will evaluate how we move forward.

The COVID numbers are staggering. Global COVID-19 cases are now over three million according to the Bing COVID-19 Tracker. Fatal cases are over 210,000 worldwide today. Fatal cases in the US increased 1,761 over the last 24 hours and total confirmed cases in the country are predicted to be over one million within 24 hours. New York City is still the center of the global COVID-19 pandemic with total confirmed cases of over 159,000. That is 5% of  the cases worldwide. Deaths in NYC have exceeded 12,000—that is 6% of the world’s total. Almost 33% of the total confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally are in the US.

These numbers are incomprehensible to health care providers, scientists, economists, and the public. Epidemiologists and public health leaders reassure us that we can still slow the increase of new cases and give our hospitals and frontline workers time to recover if we are sensible in reopening  society slowly to get some Americans back to work and begin to save the economy. Much will be needed from each of us if this experiment is to be successful.  And, we must remember that this is an experiment that will not work without comprehensive testing and comprehensive contact tracing. Contact tracing means that when anyone is documented to be positive for this virus, every person who has been exposed to this person must be found and must self-isolate. Otherwise, we will have a cycle of opening and closing areas of the economy and surging numbers of hospitalized patients once again. I am hopeful that directors of public health departments and the governors of states will find a way to get people tested and develop a corp of contact tracers. 

In spite of the horror of disease, death, and economic havoc that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, I have hope that a COVID Revolution can produce lasting change that will benefit many. This is my personal wish list as American society rises from the ashes of this pandemic.

I believe that this is a time when creativity will flourish. For example, there is an immediate and ongoing need for the creation of virtual teaching modules containing a dollop of entertainment for young children. This would help parents who are working from home and desperate for distraction and education for their children. I know several recent college graduates who are creating jobs for themselves by providing a solution to this problem.  Many who have lost their jobs could take free virtual classes that would train them to work in new areas after they acquire the skills needed for a new economy post-COVID-19.

I believe that education through primary and high school, followed by technical training or college, can be improved for many with the development of online higher quality teaching all year round. College and universities have increased their costs to unmanageable levels for so many American students, leaving too many with a lifetime of crushing debt. We can create new ways to attend classes and acquire knowledge and skills without this albatross of debt for many of the younger generation. 

My wish list certainly includes a forward-thinking federal government that will finally create broadband access for rural America and impoverished areas across our country. The homes in these areas will need a broadband connection and distribution of personal computers. Education guidelines could finally be nationally established and delivered in a standardized way coupled with excellent teaching.  The poor need no longer to be left behind based on inadequate educational opportunities. Money previously used for failing public education systems can provide some of the underwriting for these programs.  

A COVID Revolution gives Americans the opportunity to become more informed about the subsidies provided by our government.  The United States spends far more on fossil fuel subsidies than education. Renewable energy production has become much cheaper than fossil fuels; however fossil fuels maintain their chokehold on the energy sector because the federal government subsidizes the extraction of coal and fracking of oil, for example. In draining money from needed programs that would increase our ability to recover from this economic catastrophe, these subsidies increase our costs to support public health and environmental and climate protections. 

The COVID Revolution should convince every American that we must bring complete production of all drugs and medical equipment back to the US. I would like to see the federal government direct those subsidies from the fossil fuel industry to the pharmaceutical industry to partially finance an urgent creation of manufacturing facilities in the US for the production of these essential products. Some of the millions of Americans who could be permanently unemployed, could be retrained to staff these production facilities. The pharmaceutical industry has outsourced its production of vital medications and medical equipment to China, India, and other developing nations, in order to lower costs with cheap labor to increase profits. They need to bring those jobs back to the US.

Americans have come together in the past to sacrifice and use our history of resilience and creativity to change our nation. Men went into WWII to fight a war on multiple fronts. Rosie the Riveter and a quickly deployed female workforce joined the men who did not go to war to produce planes, tanks, ammunition, and ships.  There were no factories for this but they were built in the most massive retooling of the American workplace in history. We are once again at war. We are now fighting an invisible and lethal enemy that is still poorly understood for which there is no treatment and no vaccine on the horizon.

In the absence of federal government leadership, many states have benefited from strong, sensible, and empathic leadership at the state level based on both public health guidance and the need to get people back to work. Effective leadership at the state level has reinforced our need to become experts in social distancing, mask and glove-wearing along with hand washing techniques before we can move out of the house and into a slowly evolving new normal. This leadership will find a way to develop and implement testing and contact tracing.

We must also become informed citizens who do more than read the latest updates, watch the pundits discuss the most recent catastrophes, or complain about the quality of political candidates available to lead us through the ongoing COVID crisis. We must become informed citizens in order to make tough decisions to win the war against COVID-19 and recover from its economic devastation. 

In this together,

Dr. Pat

 

Leave a Reply to Angeline Goreau

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  • Dr Pat April 28, 2020 at 11:05 pm

    Angeline, thank you for your thoughtful comment. We hope to hear more from you.
    Dr Pat

    Reply
  • Angeline Goreau April 27, 2020 at 11:12 am

    Brilliant piece–very much along the lines of my own thinking. Thank you so much, Dr. Pat. You’ve been both informative and uplifting during this crisis, as always. One of the few silver linings of the world being turned upside down and inside out is the opportunity to question our “givens” and think hard about how to shape the future. Another silver lining: we are indeed all in this together. Never has personal responsibility been so crucially defining.

    Reply