Global preparedness expert shares the presidential speech we really need to hear

Judging by today's plunging stock market and the White House scrambling to correct three crucial pieces of information, last night's presidential address (which you can read in its entirety here) did little to reassure the country that the government is adeptly handling the coronavirus pandemic.

A mere few hours after the president concluded his remarks, global preparedness and humanitarian response expert Jeremy Konyndyk took to Twitter and shared the address that Americans really needed to hear.


I don't think it's overstating to say it's pretty much perfection. Check it out:

"My fellow Americans, the next few months are going to be hard. For many of us, harder than anything we've faced in our lifetimes. Life in our country is about to change. We must unify against this threat like we unified after 9/11.

And indeed, this virus threatens to kill more Americans than terrorism ever has.

But we can defeat it, and we will defeat it. My administration has a plan to lead this fight. I will outline that plan in a moment.

But more important than the plan is this:

We must all own this fight.

Defeating this outbreak will take science and medicine, but it will also take unity and partnership—from all of us. For now, medicine cannot defeat this disease. But *people* can. We have no vaccine, we have no treatment, although we are working furiously to develop both.

Until then, what we have is us. Our choices, our decisions, our behavior—that is how we will do this.

Here is the plan. Our most important priority over the coming months is to protect our highest-risk citizens, and the hospitals that will work to save them if they become ill.

We have seen what happened in Wuhan, and is happening in Iran and Italy. We should not imagine it cannot happen here. Make no mistake: this is a dangerous disease. While most who contract it become only mildly ill, it is extremely deadly for the elderly and people with chronic health problems.

You may be one of those people, or you may love one of those people—all of us have a stake in this. That is why tonight I am announcing national policy guidance on social distancing, and tomorrow I will be speaking with every governor in the country to secure their commitment to implement this guidance.

This must be a whole-of-society effort. We do not want to lock down our population as China did. But to avoid that, we must apply universal and aggressive public measures to slow the spread.

Even if you are young and low risk, you can still contract and spread it. And that threatens those who are at higher risk. So I am calling on all communities to suspend all mass gatherings of over 50 people.

I applaud the brave and difficult decisions made today by the NCAA and NBA—they are leading by example. I call on other business and civic leaders to follow them. These important measures are how we can protect our health system. We must ensure that those who do fall sick can obtain the quality care that they need, and survive. Aggressive social distancing measures help achieve this by reducing the number of people sick at any one time.

Reducing the number of people who are sick at once is the best way to keep our health system from being overwhelmed. And that in turn helps not just COVID-19 patients but also everyone else who must seek treatment in a hospital. You will learn more about these measures in the coming days, and I beg you to abide by them.

Social distancing, along with handwashing, are the most important things that average Americans can do to defeat this disease. Next, we must protect Americans who are highest risk from this virus. I have directed HHS to refocus the federal Public Health Service to reinforce their state and local counterparts on outreach and support to high risk people and facilities.

But they can't do this alone. We must all work to ensure that every seniors' home, retirement community, and other high-risk facility has the support it needs to prevent infections. And I urge Americans to take ownership of this. If you have loved ones in a high-risk facility - join us in this effort.

Next we must ensure that our nation's hospitals have the resources and support that they need to manage the coming flood of cases. While I fervently hope that we will not see the severe case volumes witnessed in China and Italy—we must be ready for that scenario. That is why I am directing HHS to immediately make urgent resources and support available to hospitals to safely isolate and treat COVID-19 patients.

I am also directing the military to make military doctors available to expand critical care capacity around the country. And I am directing the Army Corps of Engineers to help hospitals expand their intensive care facilities, and also to rapidly establish drive-through testing, which have proved successful in South Korea.

And let's talk about testing. First, I apologize.

I and my administration bungled this badly, but we are moving with total urgency to fix the problem. Public health labs and major research institutions across the country will now have free rein to initiate widespread testing, and the federal government will reimburse this fully.

This rapid expansion of testing will be available, free of charge, to every American. And if you feel ill, or suspect you have been exposed, I urge you to be tested so that you can self-quarantine if needed. Self-quarantine is a powerful tool against this virus.

Finally, we must protect our economy, and also protect those who may be most hurt by mass social distancing measures. Gig workers; hourly wage-earners; small businesses; event planners—all will face economic hardship over the next several months.

I am announcing tonight the creation of a social distancing empowerment fund, which will provide modest bailouts to self-employed workers and small business owners who lose significant income due to our new distancing guidelines.

These measures - mass social distancing, protecting our highest risk citizens, and protecting our hospital system—are the critical trifecta that will restrain fatalities in our country while helping to bring disease transmission under control. But none of this works without you. You—every citizen—must own this fight.

I know many of you do not trust me, and do not often wish me to succeed. But in this I will do my best to deserve your trust, and once this is over we can go back to fighting over judges and policy. This will be a long hard fight. But we must prevail and we will prevail. I commit to you that I and everyone in the federal government will do our part; and we call on you to do yours.

Good night."

I don't know about you, but just reading that speech made me feel better. If the president had given this address, I'd be left feeling like the president not only understands the full scope and gravity of the situation, but also how to get the country all on the same page with what specific actions to take and why.

Konyndyk is a global outbreak preparedness and humanitarian response expert with the Center for Global Development, as well as a member of the World Health Organization's high-level Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee. Seems it would have been wise for the president to have asked him to write his pandemic speech. And maybe even oversee the administration's response to the pandemic as well, instead of putting people with no experience and a huge learning curve in charge.

What a startling contrast that would have been.

On February 19, 2020, a group of outdoor adventurists took a 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. During the trip, they had no cell service and no contact with the outside world. When they ended they ended their journey on March 14, the man who pulled them ashore asked if they had been in touch with anyone else. When the rafters said no, the man sighed, then launched into an explanation of how the globe had been gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and everything had come to a screeching halt.

The rafters listened with bewilderment as they were told about toilet paper shortages and the NBA season being canceled and everyone being asked to stay at home. One of the river guides, who had done these kinds of off-grid excursions multiple times, said that they'd often joke about coming back to a completely different world—it had just never actually happened before.

The rafters' story was shared in the New York Times last spring, but they're not the only ones to have had such an experience.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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