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COVID-19 threatens our health safety and is crippling our business economy. Eliminating COVID-19 is virtually impossible without a vaccine and a plan for its widespread distribution.
In the meantime, we need to take on this enormous problem with an equally enormous response.
Historically, we accomplished this in World War ll. The task then was to build hundreds of ships — Liberty Ships they were called — to carry thousands of tons of cargo to England to help defeat the Germans. It needed to be not a perfect ship, but a “good enough” ship design that could be duplicated and mass produced.
It took 18 shipyards to produce some 2,700 ships, the first of them reportedly rolled out in just 70 days.
Today, we need to pick an adequate COVID-19 test but apply it on a massive scale. We need to identify who has COVID-19, who doesn’t and who had it. To do that, we need to build a plan around a seven-day testing window and test virtually all of the population to limit undetected transmission.
Right now, we’ve tested barely 2 percent to 5 percent of the population. So on any given day, we can only know which 200,000 Americans do or don’t have COVID-19. It’s better than nothing, but little better than chasing our tails.
What we do have are assets. By my count, there are 67,000 pharmacies, 6,146 hospitals, 11,000 walk in health clinics and more than 150,000 dental offices in the United States. That’s 234,145 potential test locations currently staffed with health professionals. And we have virtually unlimited wealth, but about $200 billion — equal to about 40 percent of what we are losing each month — should do the trick.
If each location tested 200 people daily, in seven days we would cover the U.S. population. As the tests are performed, we isolate those infected for 21 days, implore those who are not infected to uber social distance for 21 days and ask those who have recovered to shoulder as much of the workload as possible.
To do this, we need rapid testing apparatus for each location, enough reagent for those tests and the swabs and personal protective equipment to get it all done.
Starting now, we should nationalize the process, using the Defense Production Act to get companies to make the equipment. Ramp up what Abbott Laboratories and others are doing on a far more massive scale.
And simultaneously build a central health data bank to capture the test results.
Then start by giving every resident of this nation a voluntary date, time and location to be tested.
Execute this in three phases over 148 days. Phase one: Build and stockpile the materials and infrastructure during the first 120 days. Phase two: Operate the testing locations and their staff to test for seven days. Phase three: Quarantine those infected for the next 21 days and in phase four, restart everything without restriction.
During the first 120 days, we need to social distance the hell out of ourselves and tread water. We need to keep the minimal testing going to help health care and first responders and other critical positions. Repeat the seven day test in November if necessary or as often it takes until we are satisfied we have contained the threat.
We need to build and execute a plan that uses all of our assets and public and private entities in a coordinated national effort. Then we can be back to work.
As my mother, who survived the Great Depression, once wrote on the door of our icebox in the 1950s: Do It Now!
Les Otten of Greenwood is owner of Maine Energy Systems, a former part owner of the Boston Red Sox and was a Republican candidate for Maine governor in 2010.