Medical Experts Say We Need a Second Shutdown to Control COVID-19

  • Over 150 medical experts and other professionals are pleading for a second lockdown to address the steep rise in COVID-19 cases.
  • To safely reopen American cities and towns, experts say the U.S. must also meet requirements.
  • These include hiring more contact tracers, amassing enough PPE, and running enough daily testing.

In an open letter, also sent to the Trump administration, over 150 medical experts and other professionals are pleading for a second lockdown to address the steep rise in COVID-19 cases.

“The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible,” the letter said. “It’s to save as many lives as possible. And reopening before suppressing the virus isn’t going to help the economy.”

Finding safer ways to work and study

The letter was published by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) last week and written by Matthew Wellington, U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns director.

In it, he blames the push to reopen for our current health crisis.

“I think at this stage calling for a shutdown, or using that terminology is not going to be effective, I think what we need to do more is to figure out ways to gradually move into the most important forms of work and study safely,” Dr. Nigel Paneth, professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and pediatrics at Michigan State University, told Healthline. “Returning with appropriate safeguards is a better way to conceptualize it.”

“I think the challenge is, and I think the European and Asian countries have stepped up to this, how do you maintain economic productivity safely,” added Paneth, who also helps lead efforts in the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.

Listen to the experts

Even after we’ve contained the virus by staying at home, wrote Wellington, safely reopening American cities and towns means the United States must also meet requirements that include:

  • Sufficient daily testing capacity for everyone with flu-like symptoms and those they have been close to in the past 2 weeks.
  • Enough contact tracers to track all current cases.
  • More personal protective equipment (PPE), to keep essential workers safe.

People of all ages must do their part

Dr. Rosie D. Lyles, MHA, and director of clinical affairs at Medline, emphasized PPE, especially mask use, plays a critical role in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, children 2 years and older should wear a cloth face covering when they are in the community setting to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2,” she said.

Lyles pointed out peer-reviewed data supporting mask use by most individuals.

“A new study found that children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero,” she said. “Those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults.”

According to Lyles, we must practice the three W’s at all times:

  • wear a mask
  • wash your hands
  • watch your distance

“Clinical data is key, and it’s important that we listen to our public health officials, particularly in hotspots, to decrease the number of cases and the infection rate,” Lyles recommended.

Call for an immediate shutdown

The letter calls for non-essential businesses to be closed immediately and restaurant service limited to take-out.

It also calls for people to stay home, only going out for food, medicine, or exercise.

“Masks should be mandatory in all situations, indoors and outdoors, where we interact with others,” wrote Wellington. “We need that protocol in place until case numbers recede to a level at which we have the capacity to effectively test and trace.”

Only once we’ve adopted these measures, “we can try a little more opening, one small step at a time.”

The letter also called for interstate travel to be restricted because “When people travel freely between states, the good numbers in one state can go bad quickly.”

Paneth believes this ban might be difficult to enforce.

“I’m in Vermont, I hope in a month to return to Michigan, I don’t know quite how you’d enforce a ban on interstate travel,” he said. “Would people wait at the border and check your passport? How would they stop me from going from Vermont into New York State, or from New York State into Pennsylvania — I don’t know how they’d do that.”

Paneth considers public encouragement a better approach. “Instead of banning interstate travel, ask people to stay home and only travel if it’s necessary.”

He also advised that airports remain vigilant for people displaying COVID-19 symptoms and prevent them from boarding or leaving the airport if they’ve already landed.

When asked whether the United States reopened too rapidly, Paneth was emphatic, “Absolutely! So you see the data from Texas and Florida, [it’s] absolutely [unnerving,] and many people predicted that this would be so.”

He pointed to bars as especially risky places to have reopened.

“Bars have to be at the top of the heap,” said Paneth. “People don’t wear masks, they’re drinking, they’re congregated closely, their inhibitions are loosened a bit by drink, there’s loud music so people shout at each other, increasing spread.”

Stay-at-home orders likely ‘unsustainable’

Paneth considers stay-at-home orders “probably unsustainable, as we’ve seen.”

“Maybe you can do it for a brief period of time,” he continued. “But it breaks down, whether you have government mandates or not.”

He said there are ways to do it, and the principles are very straightforward, and they’re very similar to the principles stated in the letter, “masking, distancing, handwashing, and testing.”

According to Paneth, with a combination of those measures, we can make most areas safe, if they’re enforced. However, he urged that with strict guidelines, the important thing is “enforcement in such a way that people feel comfortable.”

A COVID-19 vaccine may not be a silver bullet

Paneth said if a vaccine is developed, it cannot stop the outbreak on its own. Even if it is highly effective, it won’t work if people don’t get vaccinated.

He explained that in the U.S. “there’s quite a bit of vaccine hesitancy or resistance,” and insufficient numbers of people receiving it would prevent creating herd immunity.

In addition to a vaccine, finding effective treatments for COVID-19 will help lessen the damage from the outbreak.

“Some of us are working on passive immunity, that is to say convalescent plasma, hyperimmune globulin, which are being developed, that can hold us short-term until a vaccine is produced,” he concluded.

The bottom line

Almost 150 medical experts and other professionals endorse an open letter calling for a renewed shutdown to control COVID-19.

The letter specifies that we reopened too quickly and details actions we should take to reduce disease spread.

Experts say that we must listen to public health officials to decrease both cases and infection levels of COVID-19.

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