Home Science Larry Brilliant on How Well We Are Fighting Covid-19

Larry Brilliant on How Well We Are Fighting Covid-19

Larry Brilliant on How Well We Are Fighting Covid-19

I hear that.

Yes. Two of my friends who worked on Contagion got Covid. Ian Lipkin, who, along with me, was one of the senior scientists on the movie, was in China investigating Covid in January, and then he came back to the US under quarantine. He did not get infected in China, but he got really, really sick in New York City. He is a month and a half recovered from it. And Scott Z. Burns, who was the screenwriter for Contagion, just got out of the hospital yesterday in LA.

So is there a curse of Contagion?

That’s what I said to both of them. I hope the pharaoh’s curse ends with two.

Speaking of ending the curse, how do we get out of this mess?

We can still get to that inverted V, but we have to do three different things. First, we have to develop a way to deal with the clusters—nursing homes, refugee settlements, immigrant workers, homeless encampments. We should look to Japan, which had similar problems, and they created a team which called the Cluster Busters. In an act of humility, we should be inviting the Japanese epidemiologists to come and teach us their techniques for being Cluster Busters.

The second thing that we should be doing is basic epidemiology 101. We should be finding every active case. You find someone who has symptoms of the disease, and a human being talks to them and identifies all the people they’ve been in contact with, looking backwards to try to find where the disease came from, what was their source of the disease. Those who test positive, you either treat them or you quarantine them for 14 days. Those who test negative, you isolate them for 14 days. You do whatever the hell you need to do, because you’ve got to stop the virus from walking into a bar. It’s not a joke. You’ve got to stop the virus from walking into a super-spreader event.

Some people say you can do that in a culture like South Korea or Japan, but that’s not how Americans behave.

We have to do this in a particularly American way—we have to pay them money! I am a cosigner of a bipartisan bit of prospective legislation. Our proposal is $ 50 billion out of a $ 2 trillion set of stimulus packages—$ 50 billion that will pay people who are contact-traced and who test positive or are suspected of having the disease. Pay them $ 50 a day for 14 days to quarantine, so they don’t spread the disease. We want to pay for their hotel lodgings. And we want to hire 150,000 contact tracers and pay for the software that does contact tracing.

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Maybe we should have done that months ago. Isn’t it too late for that?

It’s less effective, obviously, when you have 3 million cases and 130,000 deaths in the US than when you had 15. But it’s never too late to stop a virus from spreading.

What’s the third thing?

A sensible, nationwide requirement for those places where there are clearly going to be super-spreader events to stay closed: bars, indoor restaurants, churches, megachurches, the kinds of places that we know will spread the disease. Those places can’t be reopened.

Many people left the house for the first time to join in the Black Lives Matter protests. Did that concern you?

Of course, it concerns me. But the vast majority have been wearing masks, and we are not seeing the bumpettes that I would expect. Look, the numbers are pretty clear. What is fueling this explosion are the states that opened before Memorial Day, and it’s going to be the Fourth of July, and then it’s going to be Labor Day, and then it’s going to be the election. These are beads on a necklace of explosive disease.

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