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OPINION

To limit coronavirus, US must enact lockdowns

The human race is facing a deadly pandemic unlike any seen in more than a century, and every day counts.

Two people walked through Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston on Wednesday.
Two people walked through Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston on Wednesday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file

If the United States wants to contain the deadly Covid-19, our nation must do much more than suspend travel from Europe to the United States, as announced by President Trump Wednesday. It is time to enact widespread lockdowns to limit the spread of the disease.

As a doctor and medical researcher, I spent nearly a decade developing a treatment for Ebola and other deadly viruses, and became alarmed when I learned of the outbreak of this novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in Wuhan, China late last year. The virus possesses all the hallmarks of a pandemic threat: it’s highly contagious and can cause severe illness or even death. In otherwise healthy people, and no treatment or vaccine is available. What started as an isolated outbreak in China has quickly evolved into a pandemic.

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Covid-19 cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed with lockdowns, which can buy precious time so hospitals don’t become overwhelmed by a massive surge of critically ill patients. Unfortunately, the Trump administration fanned the flames of this pandemic by failing to deploy sufficient testing capacity early on. Worse, we still don’t have adequate testing capacity, despite repeated assurances from the administration. As a consequence, the virus has been allowed to spread undetected across our country for many weeks.

In China and Italy, such a massive and sudden acceleration of cases resulted in dire consequences. Many thousands have died, and due to shortages of ICU beds and ventilators, doctors in both countries report having to make the grim choice between who gets medical care versus who does not and thus faces a much higher risk of death. Our country isn’t immune to a similar fate if we don’t take dramatic measures immediately. Many thousands of people will become infected in a short period of time, our hospitals will become overwhelmed, and as a consequence, many will probably die.

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Across the country, all large gatherings must be temporarily banned. This ban should extend to all sporting events, concerts, political rallies, and other gatherings. Schools and universities should be closed nationwide, and religious services should be suspended. All businesses and public-sector employers should encourage employees to work remotely from home, wherever possible. And people should be advised to avoid public places where people gather, including public transit and businesses, and non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged.

In coronavirus “hot spots” where viral spread is accelerating and urban areas with higher population densities, even more restrictive containment measures must be enacted. These hot spots include New Rochelle, N.Y., and Seattle-area communities, whose respective state governors have ordered some restrictions on movement. But more action is needed, including requiring all businesses and non-essential government centers to be closed, public transit to be suspended, and people to remain within their homes with limited exceptions to access food, medicine, and essential supplies.

No one wants to lock down our communities unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, that time has arrived. People within these locked-down communities will need substantial support, including food, medicines, and other supplies, along with financial and emotional support. The human race is facing a deadly pandemic unlike any seen in more than a century, and every day counts. There is no way to spin the deaths of countless Americans. We must act now, or else this outbreak will spiral out of control.

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Dena Grayson is a medical doctor and researcher.

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