Six public health experts who served on President Biden’s Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board are calling for the president to adopt a new strategy to deal with the pandemic.
In three opinion pieces published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the former Biden advisers argue that “COVID-19 is here to stay” and that the administration should adjust its approach accordingly to avoid “a perpetual state of emergency.”
“Policy makers need to specify the goals and strategies for the ‘new normal’ of life with COVID-19 and communicate them clearly to the public,” three of the advisers — Drs. Ezekiel Emanuel, Michael Osterholm and Celine Gounder — write in one of the articles. They argue that, rather than aiming to eradicate Covid, the administration should treat the virus that causes the disease as one of a number of circulating respiratory viruses and try to help the American public adjust to the endemic threat posed by all of them.
“It is imperative for public health, economic, and social functioning that US leaders establish and communicate specific goals for COVID-19 management, benchmarks for the imposition or relaxation of public health restrictions, investments and reforms needed to prepare for future SARS-CoV-2 variants and other novel viruses, and clear strategies to accomplish all of this,” they write.
The authors argue that the nation’s public health infrastructure needs dramatic improvements, including better data collection, a stronger public health workforce and increased flexibility for medical professionals to practice across state lines. They also call for broader use of vaccine mandates and accelerated efforts to create a universal coronavirus vaccine along with a stronger emphasis on antiviral medicines.
And, they say, “testing, surveillance, masking, and ventilation all need significant improvement.”
Among their recommendations in those areas: Low-cost testing should be made available to everyone in the country; high-quality masks such as N95s should be encouraged, and provided for free or little cost, instead of cloth or surgical masks; and the country should establish an electronic vaccine certificate platform. “Relying on forgeable paper cards is unacceptable in the 21st century,” they write.
Why it matters: “The authors are all big names in American medicine,” The New York Times notes, adding that “several, including Dr. Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration and Dr. David Michaels, a former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, have held high-ranking government positions. The driving force behind the articles is Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist, medical ethicist and University of Pennsylvania professor who advised former President Barack Obama.”
The Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports that many of the steps the authors recommend are already part of Biden’s plans, but the former administration advisers are also frustrated by aspects of the administration’s coronavirus response and feel that Biden officials haven’t always heard their ideas. “The most surprising thing about the articles is that they were written at all,” Stolberg writes, “and that the authors are airing their criticisms so publicly.”