Stopping COVID-19: Who will fill the leadership void?

COVID-19 5-day growth rate of confirmed cases (per country), versus days since that country surpassed 100 confirmed cases.
This chart compares how quickly and effectively each of four countries responded to its COVID-19 outbreak, by observing the outbreak’s growth in the days following the outbreak’s start in that country. The start of the outbreak in each country is taken to be the day when that country surpassed 100 confirmed cases — day 0. These timelines show that the USA response to its outbreak has been slow and ineffective compared with responses by China, South Korea and even Italy. View in Google Spreadsheet. Data sources: JHU and Our World in Data.

China, South Korea and a few other countries have proven that, with rapid effective action, the COVID-19 coronavirus can be stopped.  But after wasting many precious weeks downplaying the threat, the USA administration’s response is still only to slow the spread and brace for impact.

To effectively mitigate or stop a rapidly spreading epidemic, it is essential to bring the outbreak’s growth rate down — fast. With an exponential growth rate, every day of delay — every hour of delay — has an enormous downstream impact.

The figure above graphically demonstrates how slow and ineffective the USA has been in responding to its COVID-19 outbreak, in comparison with China, South Korea and Italy. For example, South Korea (dotted gray line), which had an explosive off-the-chart 5-day growth rate in its first several days, brought its average new case load down to almost zero by its day 20, indicating that its actions were very effective in bringing the outbreak under control. In contrast the average count of new confirmed cases in USA on day 20 was still skyrocketing — far higher than it was in China or even Italy on its day 20.

Because of the USA administration’s failure to lead this country to take immediate effective action against COVID-19, a national disaster is now inevitable. The cost of this leadership failure is staggering: many thousands will die, and millions are losing their jobs. Trillion-dollar bail-outs are already in discussion.

However, as China has shown, even at this relatively late stage, we can still stop COVID-19 — and dramatically reduce the magnitude of the damage — but it will require a massive effort. Is it worth the cost? Yes, because the alternatives are even worse. Furthermore, the massive effort itself will help to heal the injured economy.

To best pull this off, we need effective national leadership with a will to do it, which we obviously don’t have in the current administration. But there is an alternative: our state governors.

Coronavirus Action Team

We need one courageous governor to immediately step forward and take the lead nationally against COVID-19. Here’s how:

  • Select and lead a core group of 3-5 influential, big-state governors who are willing to take dramatic, effective action.  Keep this core group small and fast. With exponential growth, speed is essential.
  • Create a virtual Coronavirus Action Team.  Zoom, google docs and the Web are our friends in this time of social distancing.
  • Form a tiger team of top experts and trail blazers who:
    • understand COVID-19 successes in China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.;
    • believe we can stop it — no “it’s too late” defeatists;
    • are willing to make this emergency their top 24/7 priority; and
    • can think outside the box and devise bold effective measures to stop it.
  • Set up a 24/7 support team, to assist the tiger team in any ways needed, including data analysis, messaging, website creation, public relations, and managing ideas and feedback from the public.
  • Hold press conferences every 2-4 hours, to keep the media focus, and always give accurate, unbiased information.
  • Be a consistent, national public face of effective COVID-19 action.

This core group of influential governors would act as the executive arm of the Coronavirus Action Team, to:

  • Support the team with all resources and influence needed (making connections, removing barriers, etc.);
  • Mobilize resources and implement recommended measures;
  • Marshal medical equipment and testing manufacturers as needed, on an emergency basis;
  • Pressure the federal government for any help needed, without deferring to the federal government or waiting for it (because we have already seen what a disaster that has been);
  • Get any necessary emergency legislation passed;
  • Keep the public informed, 24/7, with accurate unbiased information; and
  • Engage other state governors to join as supporters — not as core team — and similarly take action.

The Coronavirus Action Team should also crowdsource ideas and action as much as possible, appropriately vetted and supervised. We have millions of smart people sitting idle, wanting to help.

Who is willing to step forward, to fill this urgently needed leadership void?

3/30/2020: Added crowdsourcing and updated the team name.

3/26/2020: Edited to use a different graphic that is easier to understand.

By David Booth, PhD

David Booth is a computer scientist and software architect working on healthcare and biomedical data, with a focus on improving data interoperability.

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