by John M Repp
In early April of 2020, a friend of mine from Germany emailed me that she and her husband were shocked at the stories they were seeing coming out of the United States. She was shocked at our incompetence in the face of this pandemic. She thought we would be competent if nothing else. After all, we were one of the nations that helped defeat the Nazis and rebuilt her country after World War II. Dominique Moisi, a political scientist from France, has said it more forcefully: “America has not done badly, it has done exceptionally badly.”
America has some of the world’s best scientists, but many of our political leaders are not listening to them. The key to controlling this virus and opening up our economy successfully is testing combined with contact tracing and selective quarantining. Our governor here in Washington State knows this. In The Seattle Times of May 13, 2020, we were told our state has trained nearly 1400 contact tracers as part of a three-part strategy of broad-based testing, contact tracing and selective isolation of those who might have been infected. This virus is difficult to control because a person can have the virus for several days and be spreading it before any symptoms appear. So testing is the key to stopping the spread of the virus. If enough testing was available and the tests were accurate, those who test positive and all the people with whom they have had contact would need to be quarantined for two weeks.
The virus needs to infect people to reproduce. If all the people who may carry the virus are quarantined for 14 days, it will die because it cannot find new hosts. It is instructive to look at how other countries like Iceland and New Zealand are dealing with the pandemic. These countries have successfully contained the virus and aim to eradicate it completely, not just “flatten the curve”. This method makes unnecessary the quarantining of whole populations that is so devastating to an economy. Trump lied when he said several weeks ago that anybody who wants a test can get one. He said it again on May 14, 2020. Not using the legal power he has to make sure we have enough tests and contact tracers to eradicate the virus is criminal malfeasance. It is also self-defeating if his goal is to restart the economy and get re-elected.
The Financial Times of May 13, 2020 wrote: “’Jared [Kushner] had been arguing that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it’, says a Trump confidant who speaks to the president frequently. ‘That advice worked far more powerfully on him (Trump) than what the scientists were saying. He thinks they always exaggerate.’”
There has been a lot of discussion in the corporate media about the origin of the virus that causes Covid-19. Some far right sources say it escaped a laboratory in China. They want to blame the pandemic on China. The most common idea is that it came from a wet market in Wuhan, China. What is not talked about is the fact that deforestation, monoculture farming and climate change all play a huge role in the recent outbreaks of infectious disease. Much of the deforestation today is driven by huge multinational corporations who grow monocultures of palm oil and sugar cane to make products we want but don’t need. Over the last four decades, the world’s forest cover has been reduced by half. At the same time, the amount of infectious disease outbreaks has been steadily increasing. Think of Ebola, SARS-Cov, MERS-CoV, H1N1, and “swine flu”. The current pandemic seems to be part of a global trend.
After a disciplined approach to testing, contact tracing and selective quarantining, we must take the next step and stop deforestation, plant trees by the billions and push for a regenerative agriculture.