There will be a time in the future where countries will analyze the policy in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most governments, including the United States, took their marching orders from the medical and healthcare communities choosing widespread lockdown and shelter in place mentalities. These decisions were largely adopted based on pandemic models that have proved to be largely unreliable. Fortunately, there were a few countries, such as Sweden, that chose different approaches. Eventually, this will allow the world to evaluate the best means to address the next pandemic. That is a discussion for another day based on historical facts.
For now, we need to focus on April 30. That is the date the country and most states have set as the date to reevaluate the pandemic conditions. We must take the information in hand – facts, not models – and set our path going forward.
• COVID-19, though very contagious, rarely results in death unless the individual has a
preexisting condition such as COPD, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer or the individual is over 65 years of age (and usually with preexisting conditions).
• To date, in Alabama, the vast majority of deaths that have been attributed to the coronavirus have been accompanied by one or more pre-existing medical conditions.
• Many have contracted the coronavirus but never showed symptoms.
• Of the 15,000 beds in our hospitals, there are approximately 7,500 that have been made available for virus patients. We are currently using less than 350 beds for virus patients.
• No coronavirus patient has been refused a bed or ventilator that has needed one. We have never been short of either.
• There has been a shortage of test kits.
• There has been a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical and EMA personnel.
With these facts, can we not construct a plan going forward that saves just as many lives and allows most of our citizens to resume life as usual? Knowing these facts and using them responsibly, there is no reason most of our citizens cannot go back to work, church, shopping and social gatherings with all reasonable caution.
Using this information, I would recommend the following starting May 1 at the latest:
• Continue to quarantine nursing homes.
• Close all senior centers until further notice.
• Encourage those aged 65 and older to use caution.
• Encourage all with contributing health conditions to stay sheltered. Take responsibility, stay home.
• Use tests that are available to test senior facilities staff, medical and EMA personnel first. We must assemble a large enough population of professionals who have had the virus and are now immune to care for our coronavirus patients. It would also reduce the need for PPE equipment.
• As a result, let everyone else go back to work including public employees.
States should thank President Trump and the Congress for providing a stimulus package and other support. However, we need the federal government to do the following (encouraged by state governors) going forward:
• Expedite the stimulus package they passed. Though not perfect it is providing a lifeline to some businesses, but only if the money is distributed in a timely manner.
• Continue to provide medical assistance in hot spots such as New York and other places when needed.
• Focus on providing test kits to all states.
• Provide a new stimulus package to do the following:
1. Provide revenue to companies who are leaving employees on the payroll with
preexisting conditions while they wait out the virus at home.
2. Provide states with some one-time funds that are flexible to be used as needed to support
state departments such as mental health, child services, senior services, etc. Remember, most states will see a decrease in state revenues due to the shutdown.
3. Provide assistance to families that have loved ones they need to move out of the home to
a safe location until it is determined safe to return, possibly post vaccine.
4. Provide low interest loans to specific industries that have been disproportionally affected – such as restaurants and other service industries to be determined.
Now that we have the facts, it is time to take a rifle approach instead of the shotgun approach. This will allow us to save just as many lives without destroying our state’s economy and ultimately public services. I welcome input to this strategy. Now is the time to prepare for the future. We have the information to make calculated and rational decisions. Let us all work together to be ready with a plan.
Sen. Del Marsh is President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. He represents District 12, including Calhoun and Talladega counties. Marsh was elected to the Senate in 1998 and was reelected for a fifth term in 2014. He was first elected President Pro Tempore in 2010.