I am imagining a personal letter I would send to the new Coronavirus Task Force that has been assembled by the incoming administration of President-Elect Joe Biden.
President Trump, who built his brand on being America First, needs to now truly put America first, end his stubborn refusal to concede and allow the new coronavirus task force to get to work. But as they do, I thought I would list a few suggestions for them to bear in mind.
First off, know that there has been bi-partisan cheering of the long-awaited news that an effective virus vaccine has been developed by several pharmaceutical producers including Pfizer and Cambridge-based Moderna, and, amazingly, will be made available to essential workers within weeks.
That’s the great news. But right now we ‘re still dealing with the bad news that the virus, at this moment, is spreading wildly across the country and needs to be contained. That brings us to what your new coronavirus task force may be contemplating and unfortunately, that’s where the tricky part begins.
What may be helpful is for your new group of public health experts to try and understand why the worn-down and worn-out American public may view your coming efforts with a mix of fear, worry and a significant amount of skepticism based on what we have endured for nearly 10 months.
Allow me, a civilian without an advanced degree in epidemiology, to share some basic observations that can be considered.
We all would applaud your efforts if you can make it a goal to strongly encourage the national media, especially the dominant networks, to report on the current virus surge with more context and less hype. Virus case numbers blaring from the screen without context have all too often characterized the coverage, particularly on the cable networks (CNN) — which have used the virus for ratings profits. I would make a similar case about Fox News, especially the evening commentary programs which have highlighted the missteps by states and governors largely for audience amusement purposes.
Virus numbers with context will be crucial going forward. Governor Charlie Baker, for example, recently explained how the state of Massachusetts was testing up to 3,000 people a day last April and this fall is testing between 80,000-100,000 daily. That context is instructive to better understand the daily caseload levels being seen now.
That brings me to another point, related to Baker, concerning schools that I hope the task force can consider. His efforts to use scientific data to pinpoint positivity rates of virus spread have significantly helped support in-person learning in school districts across the state. Maintaining children and teens in school, to whatever extent is possible through the coming winter, will be critical to offset what has been an alarming rise in cases of depression and overall mental health deterioration seen in children and teens as well as suicides that experts say are tied to the pandemic and the severe social isolation it has created for young people.
Their parents also have faced great upheaval during the pandemic, particularly in employment, with working moms being the most severely impacted. Nationally, it’s estimated over 800,000 women have left the workforce entirely. They may be looking after elderly parents and most certainly have struggled to maintain jobs while supervising children who are home either several days a week through hybrid learning, or home all week due to full remote learning.
In Massachusetts, the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reports the overall state labor force has shrunk by more than 140,000 workers this year and over half of those to drop out of the workforce were women.
Despite the game-changing vaccine news of recent days, it’s clear that the pandemic is not through with us yet, so we urge the new task force to stay mindful that virus-related harm has not just come from the disease.