Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
President Trump during a news conference concerning the global coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday at the White House. Flanking the president are Vice President Pence, left, and Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Leana S. Wen is an emergency physician and a visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Previously, she served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

I watched President Trump’s news conference about the coronavirus on Wednesday. This is what I wish I had heard him say:

My fellow Americans, I am here as your commander in chief to provide an important update about the new coronavirus, covid-19. If there were a terrorist threat to this country, I would be standing here with my top military leaders. This is a public health threat, so I stand here with my top public health officials.

As soon as coronavirus became an epidemic in China, my administration took action. We implemented a quarantine — the first time the United States has issued a quarantine in more than 50 years. We put in place travel restrictions so that we can delay the virus from getting to our country.

Some have said these actions are too aggressive. But I agree with my public health officials that when facing a potentially deadly disease, we must always act out of an abundance of caution. The health and safety of Americans will always be my number one priority.

I have good news: My administration’s bold, aggressive actions have worked. Globally, there are more than 80,000 cases of covid-19. Only 15 have been detected in the United States.

People are recovering; not one of the 15 has died. Our actions have succeeded in delaying the arrival of covid-19 in this country. That delay bought us time to start developing a vaccine, and we’re already making headway. We have started clinical trials on treatments.

Also good news is that the fatality rate of covid-19 appears to be much lower than SARS and MERS. Some public health experts say that coronavirus could be much more like influenza — the flu. If that is true, we can expect financial markets to rebound, because we don’t close businesses and stop the economy every flu season.

Here is the bad news: The past several days have seen a big change in other parts of the world. More than 40 countries across the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Australia have reported cases of coronavirus. Our containment efforts worked when the infection was limited to one country, but with this global spread, we can no longer prevent the virus from reaching the United States. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, the question is when the outbreak will occur and how severe it will be.

I know this is difficult to hear. Some people have said that I shouldn’t tell you this because it may cause panic and fear.

But I believe that the best antidote to fear is the truth, and the truth is that this is a new disease — discovered just 60 days ago. Public health leaders have been working around the clock. We have been doing everything we can to protect Americans, and we will never stop doing that.

Some people think we should do even more. In public health emergencies, there is always more to do. I will lead my administration to do whatever is needed.

I hear from health officials on the ground that they need more testing kits. We will get these produced and distributed immediately.

They also tell me that they need more resources. I am instructing Congress to give our front-line leaders the funding they need. This is no time to ration spending; lives are on the line. Effective immediately, I am restoring the cuts to federal agencies that are involved in disease prevention. And because disease respects no boundaries, I am restoring funding to all global health programs.

The moment we have a vaccine, I will make sure that every person is vaccinated. And I am announcing today that everyone who needs treatment for coronavirus will receive it, free of charge.

I need everyone to join me in preparing for the next stage of the outbreak. I emphasize this word: prepare. At the moment, the risk to Americans from coronavirus is very low. This is the time to prepare. Businesses, universities, schools — every institution should have a plan. Every family should have a plan, too. Listen to your public health officials. They’ll be speaking after me today. I listen to them and follow their guidance. You should, too.

The situation is evolving quickly. I will continue to take bold, aggressive actions that will protect Americans’ health and safety. My team of exceptional public health experts is the best in the world. They have led a strong, effective response, and will continue to do so. We are constantly evaluating the situation, and when there are changes, we will explain them to you. I promise you truth and transparency, and that I will always do everything I can for the American people.

America has faced challenges to our health and safety before. America is strong. We are resilient. We will get through this as we have gone through so much before — united in our resolve against a common enemy and united in our mission of creating a better, healthier and safer future for all.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Russia and China are taking different but equally dangerous approaches to coronavirus

Greg Sargent: Trump just pushed one of his worst conspiracy theories yet

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s news conference will likely intensify panic over coronavirus

Helaine Olen: Coronavirus makes the case for Medicare-for-all

Max Boot: Coronavirus lays bare all the pathologies of the Trump administration

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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