Our current efforts to control covid-19 are not successful. How can we stop the pandemic? We need to answer this question for now and for the future since it will come back. It is only a matter of time.
The recently available vaccines give us hope, but aren’t enough to secure our success in stopping the pandemic. They are based on the strains of covid-19 isolated 10 months ago. Covid-19 mutates rapidly, which may make the vaccines lose effectiveness over the next few months.
There are 10-12 months between the outbreak of the pandemic and vaccine availability. If we keep handling covid-19 the way we’ve been doing, we will repeat what we have now. We need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, since we will be unable to afford a loss of the fight against covid-19 now and in the future if the vaccines are not sufficient to stop the pandemic.
Traditional epidemical measures, including quarantining of infected cases and breaking of transmission routes, have proved most useful for more than a century. These include covering and isolating the infective source, especially in contagious diseases involving the respiratory system. However, they need to be carried out strictly. Otherwise they are useless.
At the beginning of the pandemic, conflicting and misleading information was sent out to the public. We have either refused or partially practiced use of face coverings and social distancing. We did incomplete quarantining by allowing asymptomatic individuals or treated patients still positive for covid-19 to return to the community, leading to further spread in the population.
The failure to control the pandemic is due to our country’s culture and political environment formed in the last 60 years. In our culture, individual rights are respected. For example, our Constitution gives us the right to carry a firearm.
However, rights are not unlimited when we live in a society. This requires everyone to give up part of individual rights in exchange for collective/social rights. Anyone who refuses to wear a mask and quarantine will invade others’ rights to not be infected by covid-19. The collective interest will benefit the whole society, including every individual.
While we have a right to carry a firearm, the law limits our right to use it. When an individual right conflicts with collective interest, the collective interest should prevail when it significantly outweighs individual interest, such as in the pandemic.
During the last 10 months, masking, social distancing, and quarantining of those who present public risk have been inadequate. It is common to hear people say that they do not want to wear a mask, do not want someone else to tell them what to do, and that it’s their right to choose to have the vaccine. It is also frequently heard from government officials that mask use is recommended, yet some do not wear masks in public appearances.
Individuals with covid-19 positive are quarantining at home. They are free to contact family members or others in the community. This contributes to our failure in fighting the pandemic. These measures have effectively controlled the pandemic without vaccines in China.
Our elected officials and politicians at all levels are chosen to represent the people who vote for them. Their decisions should be based on collective interest and not individual rights during a severe and destructive public health disaster, although the culture and traditions of our people need to be considered.
The most important thing is to control the pandemic by applying mandatory face covering and social distancing rules and strict quarantining of infected cases (symptomatic or asymptomatic) until they are not contagious. It may need enforcement by authority. It may carry political risk.
However, politicians and officials are elected to guard communities and our country, meaning our collective interests. If you do the right thing, the people will appreciate and remember you a year from now and in the future.
It is time for every citizen and politician to take decisive action to control the pandemic of covid-19. Let us stand together to win this war.
Jing Wang (BSC, MBA, MHA), who served an internship at Johnson Regional Medical Center in Clarksville, and Dai-yuan Wang, a practicing cardiologist, live in Russellville.