Bad judgment and poor leadership from our nation’s health agencies have caused most Americans to live with an unhealthy fear of COVID-19.
They have made it so every decision we make is funneled through a COVID filter – those decisions are isolated in an imaginary COVID silo without concern for economic or psychological consequences. Whether it’s a simple trip to the grocery store, moving forward with a child’s birthday party, visiting with family and friends, you name it – every decision we make is fearfully being viewed with the virus in mind.
This fear started in the bowels of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health with well-intentioned people who thought they could control nature. Unfortunately, they forgot the many lessons we were taught in medical school: never overpromise, always tell patients the whole truth and if you don’t know an answer, be honest. The national media of course gulped all this up, became obsessed, and in turn we as a nation are living in fear and dealing with an explosion of mental health issues, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide attempts and more.
That said, very soon, COVID cases are expected to be down dramatically. Additionally, the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics estimates that over 95% of the U.K.’s population now have some level of antibodies against COVID. There is every reason to believe the U.S. will also join the greater than 95% immunity mark post Omicron. Thus, it’s time for us to take a new approach to COVID as we learn to live with it. Here is a simple plan that needs to be executed:
Stop the obsession with testing any asymptomatic as well as every symptomatic patient. In medical school we were taught not to order a test unless it alters the patient’s management plan. For example, if one patient in the nursing home or a classroom tests positive and the next 25 people with the same symptoms pop up, there is no reason to test each person – particularly with many tests producing inaccurate results. Instead, empower local doctors and county health departments to prioritize treatments and testing if necessary.
Additionally, we should be tracking only hospitalizations and deaths – within these categories we need to distinguish “from” COVID versus “with” COVID. This data must be published by county officials regularly. If we continue to tally and report positive cases – especially for asymptomatic people – the obsession and mental health issues will never go away. We must decentralize the power the CDC possesses and empower county health departments in the COVID fight. Having overseen three county health departments for decades, and treated thousands of patients with viruses, I know these standout nurses. They have been treating communicable diseases for decades – they can handle this. I learned very early on as a physician, if you want something done consistently and accurately, turn it over to local nurses to execute the plan.
Of course, President Biden also needs to follow President Trump’s footsteps and launch an Operation Warp Speed which prioritizes the development of therapeutics. And, at the same time, the CDC must invest in research of repurposed generic medicines.
Next, the administration needs to stop talking down to the American people and halt the vaccine mandates that are causing a war between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans. Instead, let’s shift focus and talk about the immune versus non-immune. Drop inconsistent, hypocritical and unmanageable mask mandates. And immediately stop the noise about vaccine passports – those too don’t work and only raise the hysteria.
Finally, while we can’t control nature, and we don’t know what the next variant will be, we do know getting back to basic healthy lifestyles with good nutrition, exercise, stress relief, addressing our obesity epidemic, curbing substance abuse and eliminating or minimizing co-morbidities will have a great potential impact. We must stop the obsession with COVID, stop living in fear and move forward. But first, the White House, CDC and national media will have to wean themselves off their fixation with eye-grabbing headlines that are causing Americans to live in fear.
Roger Marshall represents the state of Kansas in the United States Senate.