The solution to COVID-19 spread was right in front of our eyes

Against the backdrop of a major and deadly surge in coronavirus cases around the nation, it is time to look back at what science was telling us before the uptick in infections in the southern and western parts of the United States.

The keys to preventing a further spike in COVID-19 cases are not in front of us; they are behind us. The warnings were there months ago, as were the suggested paths to prevention of community spread. 

The following were the findings of a distinguished group of scientists and global health experts at Georgetown University in April. Their April paper should be required reading for all elected officials, including the president of the United States. 

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“We are flying blind into an uncertain future that could include multiple additional waves of the pandemic. It is essential to gain a better understanding of the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the key characteristics of SARS-CoV-2. The virus is steps ahead. If we act now, we can get ahead of it and be prepared for whatever course it takes,” they wrote.

Written before a surge in cases two months later, the white paper, “COVID-19: A Global Pandemic Demands a Global Response,” is a roadmap for managing the virus. But many of its findings have been ignored by the administration.

One of the key tenets of the strategy, laid out by almost a dozen experts, was ramping up the country’s rapid ability to test, trace and quarantine citizens. 

“Without widespread RNA and serology testing, we cannot know what percent of those who recover during the first wave of COVID-19 are protected from infection or disease progression if another wave occurs,” they wrote. “That knowledge is essential for health care workers and first responders, and to understand the longevity of immunity and could inform vaccine development.”

Despite those warnings, our Tweeter-in-chief discouraged testing but later claimed he was being “sarcastic” in his anti-testing ideas.

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The report suggests using technology instead of human intelligence to follow-up on positive COVID-19 cases. Addressing privacy concerns, the Georgetown report offered systems to help manual tracers, including a “black box” that could notify people potentially exposed to the virus with a text message that only they receive.

“Black boxes could also provide aggregated and anonymized reports for sub-national, national and global use,” the authors wrote. 

As if they had a crystal ball, the authors predicted that, without a serious global response, the country could be subjected to uncontrolled spread. 

And rather than just offer national responses, the study emphasizes addressing the systemic health challenges in other parts of the world, including Africa, warning that international efforts are critical to health security at home. “No country is safe from SARS-CoV-2 as long as it exists anywhere in the world,” they report.

Buried in the report are concrete suggestions for this administration or the next, including the use of war games to play out scenarios and international funding of global health. If nothing else, this study is a great transition paper for the next president who, one hopes, is someone who reads studies and takes science seriously. 

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The April Georgetown study is just one of many papers that confirm COVID-19 discoveries worth following. Last week a meta-analysis published in The Lancet medical journal found that “face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection.” Although I highly doubt President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE read that study, he is at least now expressing vague interest in wearing a mask.

We can learn from experts or disregard them with fatal consequences. Alternatively, we can wait and vote out those who disregard scientific studies.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.