Can America Beat COVID-19?
Now that the United States has finally started to reduce its coronavirus infection rate, some political leaders have rushed to ease safety restrictions. But without a three-pronged strategy of testing, contact tracing, and mandatory assisted quarantine, the virus is likely to keep re-emerging, with or without mass vaccination.
CAMBRIDGE – After a year of steadily increasing COVID-19 case counts, the United States may finally be at an inflection point. The recent overall decline in the number of new infections represents an opportunity finally to eliminate the virus within US borders, and to begin to eradicate it globally. But this window may not be open for long, given the emergence of new, more transmissible variants and a resurgence of cases in some parts of the Midwest.
The recent declines are likely a result of seasonal population immunity (coronaviruses, in general, are seasonal contagions), vaccination, and a renewed commitment to safety measures such as face masks and social distancing. If the US can maintain these practices and contain new variants, it can quickly bring new daily infections down to around 3,000, at which point local transmission could be eliminated through widespread rapid testing, contact tracing, and assisted mandatory isolation.
Many will see this as a daunting task. But Australia, Bhutan, China, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and others have used precisely this approach to keep case counts near zero and stamp out the spread of new strains. If the US could adopt the same three-pronged strategy and then help other countries do the same, a COVID-free world would be within striking distance.