Begin each briefing with the numbers
Until late February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held daily briefings during which it presented data from the United States and around the world. The CDC can resume these updates, starting with the latest numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It can identify trends, track the trajectory of disease in different states, and anticipate where the next hot spots will be.
As states roll back social distancing restrictions and experiment with different ways to reopen their economies, these numbers will be particularly important. They will help state and local officials troubleshoot and provide early surveillance to predict resurgence of infections. If restrictions need to be imposed again, the data will show why and help determine where and how.
Give updates on clinical trials
Dozens of vaccine candidates and potential therapies are undergoing clinical trials in the United States and around the world. The institution that Anthony S. Fauci leads, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is widely admired as the leading source of information about covid-19 vaccines and treatments. Fauci and his colleagues can present a status update on the various trials, including any preliminary results, as he did on Wednesday regarding the anti-viral medication remdesivir. The Food and Drug Administration can add context on when such therapies could be expected to be approved and made available.
The FDA can also provide ongoing clarification about testing. There are two main types of tests available: the PCR test that detects acute infection and the serology test that measures a patient’s antibody levels. Both have some problems with access and accuracy, and guidance is constantly changing about who should get what tests and how they should be interpreted. Instead of politicians arguing about whose fault it is that not enough tests are available, scientists can take time during the briefings to provide guidance on usage of these tests and what the results indicate.
Explain the latest scientific research into the coronavirus
Every day, studies come out shedding more light on covid-19. The respiratory illness now appears to affect multiple other systems, including the kidneys and the nervous system. On Monday, the CDC added additional symptoms to be watchful for, including loss of smell and taste. Reports are growing that covid-19 can cause strokes in previously healthy young people.
Just last week, new research indicated that covid-19 was spreading in the United States weeks before we knew. Other studies are finding out more about the transmissibility of the virus, how long it stays in the body and whether there is immunity after acquiring the disease. It’s important for people to hear how the top scientists in the country process new studies and how new information changes the way they approach diagnosing and treating the disease.
Provide information to help people stay safe
The CDC has guidelines for various types of businesses to help them reduce the rate of infection in the workplace. They can explain these guidelines to the public. Employers can better understand the rationales, and state and local officials can use the information to make regulatory changes.
The briefings should also provide practical advice for employees to use to reduce their risks. Many people are anxious about returning to work, and getting the best, evidence-based guidance from experts will provide reassurance. These practical tips can include ways to keep safe in public transit and how to reduce infection risk for family members.
Talk about major challenges and the federal government’s response
A final part of the briefing should be about key areas of concern as identified by governors and front-line health-care workers. Recent areas include lack of testing, rationing of personal protective equipment, and the need for additional funding. This part of the briefing could be led not by scientists but by Vice President Pence, as head of the coronavirus task force. He can discuss the progress made thus far, anticipated timelines and next steps.
The U.S. government has some of the best scientists and doctors in the world. They can synthesize the latest research, process the new data into policy recommendations and provide practical guidance for the public. If given a platform, they can serve as credible, trusted sources that cut through confusion and misinformation. Imagine that instead of a daily spectacle followed by a news cycle of rebuttals and political fights. The American people deserve no less.