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Like in February 2020, We are Now at a Fork in the Road

In February, 2020, Americans watched on television as a novel Coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China quickly spread with cases throughout the world. We watched as this highly contagious virus caused a public health disaster first in China and then in Italy. As Americans watched, so did the federal government. Instead of taking substantive action, the Trump administration simply ob-served as other parts of the world suffered from shortages of ventilators and PPE, hoping that the novel virus would simply disappear before causing a similar disaster in the United States.

In February, instead of investing in national production of equipment like N95 masks and creating a contact tracing system that has been the bedrock of countries like South Korea that have more successfully combated the COVID19 pandemic, the Trump administration slashed HHS secretary Alex Azar’s ask of $2 billion for PPE to replenish an inadequate federal stockpile to only $500 mil-lion. They left the fight against a highly contagious virus that does not know borders up to the states, who were left to compete against each other for supplies and fend for themselves. Of course, we all know what happened in the next several months as the COVID19 pandemic has wreaked havoc throughout our woefully unprepared country. More than 200,000 Americans, including almost 7000 Angelenos, have died in this relentless pandemic. We have seen shortages in PPE for healthcare workers, which have resulted in unnecessary healthcare worker deaths and decreased access to care for patients when they needed it most. Our economy has been deeply wounded and continues to be effected by necessary restrictions made even more necessary by an inadequate contact tracing system where test results still take multiple days to come back.

From March through August, COVID19 ravaged Los Angeles, killing thousands and hitting communities of color the hardest. The last few weeks has seen a dissipation of COVID19 cases and deaths and the county’s status has been the best it’s been since before the pandemic. This is true in many cities throughout the country, but as evidenced by the cluster of cases at the highest levels of government this past week, the virus has not disappeared. The 1918 pandemic, during which masks and isolation measures were similarly a hot political topic, attacked Americans in four separate waves over the course of more than two years. Our technologies and treatments have advanced since 1918, but we still don’t have a real cure for this novel Coronavirus, and we cannot count on an effective vaccine in the coming months no matter how much politicians want you to believe that during election season.

Like in February, 2020, we have come to a fork in the road where the federal government can either choose to prepare for a potential second wave or once again abdicate its responsibility. While it is election season and our leaders are once again distracted by the endlessness of campaign sea-son, we must remind them that the time to govern and act is now. Instead of rushing through a Supreme Court nominee while disregarding all other acts of governing, the time is now to invest in a national supply chain for PPE with a practical distribution system. The time is now to generate a more sophisticated contact tracing system and most importantly to have access to testing where results come back within a day, not a week. What would be the consequences of that investment? If the worst is yet to come and a second wave generates with winter, our country will be more prepared to combat it. If there is no second wave and COVID19 is on its way to quick defeat, we will have infrastructure in place for the next pandemic or epidemic to come and will have generated jobs and perhaps stimulated the economy in the process. President Trump, what are we waiting for?

Sion Roy MD is a cardiologist in Torrance and a health policy expert. He is an elected official in Santa Monica as a Santa Monica College Trustee. He is currently writing a book on leadership in Los Angeles in the spring of 2020.