Dr. Rich Besser ’81 is probably the leading Williams-affiliated voice on pandemics, having served as the acting director of the CDC during the emergence of the novel H1N1 influenza virus (often labeled “swine flu”). Dr. Besser was widely lauded for his response to H1N1 (which, fortunately, turned out to be far less serious than what was originally thought–it has a reproduction rate between 1.4-1.6 (SARS-CoV-2 looks to be around 2.2) and only a 0.02% fatality rate (SARS-CoV-2 looks like it kills between 1-5% of those infected)).

So what does he have to say about our current predicament?  In a March 5 Washington Post editorial, Dr. Besser writes:

The failures of public policy and imagination have been stalking us for years, creating haves and have-nots: parents who don’t have paid sick leave from work (only 10 states and the District of Columbia mandate it); a lack of affordable childcare or sick child care; at least 28 million Americans living without insurance and nearly one-third of the population still underinsured; health protections that are not distributed evenly from region to region; and fear among undocumented immigrants regarding access to care.

Our nation’s predicament today is both tragic, because so many people will likely suffer, and maddening, because it didn’t have to be this way. In the short term, the United States must play the hand that we’ve dealt ourselves. Indeed, there are no short-term solutions to our long-term neglects. The underlying work our nation must do to ensure all people in the United States have a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being — sick leave, universal health care, quality child care and early education, as well as fair immigration policies — must be done in moments of calm.

In the meantime, we could also consider a fund to compensate hourly workers without paid leave for their loss of income when sick; provide legal aid for those who are fired for not coming to work when ill; fund outreach to non-English speakers; ask insurers to waive co-pays for testing and treatment; supplement funding for community health centers that care for a large proportion of those without insurance; and ensure free meals are available for children when schools are closed.

This time around, things seem likely to get far worse in the U.S. before they get better.  How do you feel about our public health response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus?  Have we missed our tracking window with all of the testing mishaps of the past month?  Or have our current problems been baked in for years, not just in the 2018 disbanding of the Pandemic Response Team (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/) but in the policy decisions that we’ve made, or failed to make, over decades.  Or are you pretty happy with how things are going?

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email