Health officials are using mathematical models to predict when the U.S. will reach the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. Once the country reaches the apex, the number of hospitalizations and COVID-19-related deaths will start to decrease day after day, thus easing the burden on local healthcare systems. Experts currently predict the U.S. will reach the peak on or around Easter, Sunday, April 12th; however, each state and city will reach its own apex on different dates.
Reaching the peak is only half the battle. If officials decide to lift various shelter-in-place orders and restrictions too soon, the healthcare community will then have to worry about preventing another surge in cases as the virus continues to spread.
To establish clear, long-term goals for containing the virus, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has just released a plan to prevent another surge in cases by building what it calls “an army of healthcare providers” that will serve as “disease detectives”. These professionals will need to extensively test the general public for additional coronavirus cases, while tracking down those who may be infected without their knowledge.
Find out how the CDC plans to keep the general public safe once the country begins to see signs of “normalcy”.
Can We Go Back to Normal?
Many of us are speculating what life in America will be like once the virus has been contained and the general public can leave their homes again. Some say we will no longer shake hands in public, while others are predicting a world dominated by remote work, video phone calls, and telehealth.
One thing remains certain: States and the federal government will need to lift shelter-in-place orders to get the economy up and running again. This could happen as soon as the end of May or later in the summer, depending on the rate of new infections.
Health officials are worried about reopening the country, fearing it could lead to another surge in coronavirus cases. The number of new cases has gone down in recent days thanks in large part to recent shelter-in-place orders. When the country does reopen, those infected with the virus could easily pass it on to those who have still not been exposed, including elderly individuals and those with pre-existing conditions. This could easily lead to a second pandemic, putting us right back where we started.
Our Post-Pandemic Future
To help the healthcare system prevent a second outbreak, the CDC is ramping up plans for keeping the virus in check once the country goes back to normal. To get to this phase, the CDC says reopening the county must include:
- Expanded Virus Testing
The U.S. has been lagging in coronavirus testing for several months. New methods are designed to diagnose patients in just a few minutes and increase the rate of testing around the country, but many facilities are still testing on a limited basis. Many healthcare providers like yourself still do not know if they have been infected.
To get things back to normal, the CDC says testing needs to be readily available for the general public. Those who think they may have the virus should be able to get a diagnosis as quickly as possible, so they can self-isolate to prevent further spreading the virus.
The healthcare industry will need a lot of field workers to turn this mission into a reality. Healthcare workers will need to start testing patients virtually everywhere, such as at airports, schools, religious centers, offices, and other public areas.
- Rapid Contact Tracing
In addition to more testing, the CDC wants to invest heavily in what’s known as contact tracing. This is the approach of finding and reaching out to anyone who may have had contact with someone infected with the virus. This people must then self-isolate for at least two weeks. Many countries have used contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus, including South Korea, China, and Singapore.
Again, contact tracing will require a large number of additional healthcare providers. These “disease detectives” will need to go through an infected patient’s life and track down every person they may have had contact with, including their loved ones, colleagues, and even complete strangers.
If this individual has had contact with lots of other people, local hospitals will need to prepare for a potential surge in virus patients. Cities and states will need to house infected patients in sealed-off areas, such as hotel rooms, college, dorms, and pop-up tents.
CDC Director Robert Redfield referred to these aggressive new tactics as “block and tackle.”
The CDC is already working out the fine details of these plans, especially if the country could reopen as soon as May or June. The agency says it will put out a call for additional healthcare workers in the next few weeks. As a nurse, you may be asked to enlist, so you can help with additional testing and contact tracing. The healthcare system is strained as it is, so it remains unclear how the CDC will recruit and oversee so many additional healthcare workers.
Some have suggested the country may resort to invasive tactics to assist with contact tracing, such as using people’s cell phone information to track their location and contact history. Officials could easily retrace someone’s steps using this data, so they can bring anyone they have had contact with in for testing. Some may consider this an invasion of privacy, while others see it as a life-saving tool.
We should have more information about this new containment strategy in the next few weeks. Stay tuned as we look forward to our post-coronavirus future.