A Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories scientist tests for COVID-19. Credit: Gov. Tom Wolf via Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Memo to the president: Reimagining public health preparedness and response

By Daniel M. Gerstein, January 12, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the United States politically, economically, and societally as never before in our nation’s history. The US response to the pandemic has been uneven; it has upended two centuries of emergency management doctrine and caused Americans to lose trust and confidence in their government. The human toll has been staggering and the toll on the nation’s psyche has been devastating. As you take office, the death toll for the first year of the pandemic is approaching the number of all Americans killed in World War II.

Your first order of business will be to end the pandemic. You must efficiently deploy the long-promised vaccines that will begin becoming more available after your inauguration. During this early vaccine period, social distancing, testing, and contact tracing will remain important for stopping the spread of the virus. This virus will likely become endemic and your administration must continue supporting the development of therapeutics to treat those who become infected as well as the public health infrastructure necessary to deal with periodic outbreaks.

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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