Field Guide to the Nation

COVID Action Group is a nonpartisan network of pandemic experts, scientists, researchers and communicators with a mission to advise the country about how to eliminate the COVID-19 virus through practical strategies that policymakers and citizens can implement.

Open Letter to President-Elect Biden: Countdown to Day 1

7 Actions President-Elect Biden Can Take Now to Shut Down the Virus 

Earlier this month, President-elect Joe Biden boldly declared, “I’m going to shut down the virus,” and took an important step toward that goal by appointing an expert task force to advise him on defeating the deadly COVID-19 virus. 

We understand and respect Biden’s Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, but we are seeking to add additional guidance from a wider array of public health experts, including pandemic and aerosol experts.

To support this mission, we have formed a multidisciplinary, science-based effort, called the COVID Action Group, led by a nonpartisan network of pandemic experts, scientists, clinicians, researchers and communicators, to advise the country about how to eliminate the COVID-19 virus through practical strategies that policymakers and citizens can implement. 

As scientists, community leaders and strategists, our primary role is to identify what we must do to “shut down the virus.” 

The reason we still have the virus 10 months after it arrived in the United States is that the measures necessary to shut down the virus have not been taken.

These measures must be based on the reality of the physics and biology of the virus. To restore normal lives, avoid further deaths and suffering of loved ones fighting for their lives in hospitals or suffering from long-term disabilities, our response must be proactive, consistent, and rooted in science.

As a science-based effort, we must also debunk falsehoods, from the downplaying of the pandemic to the undermining of the role of masks, which have hindered a robust public health response. 

Complacency is the enemy of action.

False Narratives

As the nation prepares to launch a robust response, two dangerous narratives must be countered.  

The first false narrative is that vaccines are around the corner and will allow us to avoid difficult decisions, including whether to implement curfews, closures, lockdowns and other strong public health efforts. The truth is that for the majority of Americans who are not first responders or members of high-risk groups, the administration of a vaccine could be six months to 12 months away.  In the meanwhile, if we let it, the virus will continue to kill, harm and disrupt our lives. 

The second false narrative is that we can find a sweet spot where we do just enough to keep the economy open and “normal life” proceeding without suppressing the virus. From the experience of nearly 200 countries, we now know every reactive strategy of half-measures has failed. The only successful strategy is to rapidly suppress the virus by stopping transmission and restoring normal activity once there is zero, or very close to zero, community transmission.

We must act with strong leadership and compassion so that Americans can emerge on the other side. And we have a detailed plan to get there, starting with 7 Steps for Action Now.

7 Steps for Action Now 

What should President-elect Biden do now through the power of the bully pulpit? He must take action to foster communication, community and collaboration. 

  1. Conduct daily national briefings with clear messaging about how citizens can stop transmission and be safe from disease and death. 
  1. Galvanize governors and mayors and encourage them to support individuals, communities and businesses logistically and financially, so they can sustain and protect themselves while acting to stop transmission. Encourage them to communicate with their congressional representatives and push for a stimulus package that will be needed for success. 
  1. Urge healthcare and public health leaders to adopt established best practices and rapidly identify new cases. Encourage a shift from reactive responses to proactive community-based rapid case identification, from isolation to “supported isolation,” with services for those in need, improving help for so-called “long haulers” suffering from long-term detrimental health effects from the virus. 
  1. Engage business, labor and workers. Foster constructive public communication, volunteer community efforts and philanthropic efforts to give back to their communities during a time of need. Engage their participation in COVID safety in the workplace. Promote workplace COVID safety transparency, standards and implementation for employees and customers.  Promote their participation as organizations in community volunteer efforts to stop transmission. Promote their engagement in opening up safely where there is no community transmission. Promote corporate mutual support of businesses and their workers through the short-term pain there will be for long-term gain. 
  1. Build caring communities. Engage grassroots community leaders to address health beliefs that impact COVID elimination strategies and develop targeted public service announcements that communicate several elements to the public: the benefits of eliminating the virus and returning to normal social and economic life as soon as possible, not waiting for a vaccine; the recognition that asymptomatic and presymptomatic airborne spread of the virus is a major driver of the pandemic; the ability and responsibility of all citizens to protect themselves and each other from COVID-19 and to stop transmission across communities, beliefs and political affiliation. Build collaborations with community leaders and religious groups that represent marginalized communities and minority groups who are dying from the virus at rates three times higher than other groups.
  1. Disrupt disinformation. Build teams to counter disinformation including collaborations of scientists, experts in disinformation, public relations and behavioral science, the press and social media platforms. These teams should be empowered to rapidly respond to disinformation and curtail its wider communication through careful but rapid surveillance and review.
  1. Find legislative solutions. Work to educate congressional leaders to craft legislation that will allow the nation to take the measures necessary now to realize a rapid path toward normal.

All of these actions can start now and be an advanced preparation for executive actions on Day 1. We look forward to making recommendations for what to do in the first 100 days, but there is much to do before January 20. 

7 Benefits to the 7 Steps for Action Now

Reaching zero COVID cases is the fastest route back to normal — and it takes only four to six weeks of strong measures. COVID transmits through two dominant routes: airborne aerosols and direct, close contact. Transmission occurs through symptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and asymptomatic carriers.  People without symptoms who don’t know they are infected are transmitting the virus to others through airborne aerosols or direct and close contact.

Disrupting transmission will minimize fatalities, morbidities, long term disability and economic damages. Our communities can reach zero COVID by breaking the chain of transmission of the virus. Communities that first get to zero COVID will be the first that will be able to realize many benefits, most significantly saving lives.

Benefits Communities Will Get

1. Get jobs back.
2. Reopen businesses and operate at full capacity.
3. Send children back to school for in-person education.
4. Enjoy dining at restaurants and going to bars.
5. Have gatherings with families and friends.
6. Play team sports and attend sports events.
7. Attend religious services and ceremonies.

Since it will take a long time to vaccinate the majority of the population, the alternative to zero COVID would be to continue this difficult and painful state of repeated emergency lockdowns with no gatherings, no schools, no restaurants and bars and an explosive increase in sickness, death and social and economic suffering.

The sooner we adopt stricter mitigation measures the faster we will reach zero COVID. We have the choice to adopt these measures now and return to a healthy society and prosperous economy quickly — or wait for the virus to enforce these measures upon us, leading to much higher health and economic damages.