The U.S. needs to triple its testing capacity, put more time between each phase of reopening, and get used to the idea of smartphone apps that track who has contacted whom, a Washington think tank says after studying coronavirus reopening efforts around the world.
Uniform national metrics also would help so states can learn from each other, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, the Bipartisan Policy Center said in a memo Wednesday.
And while the effectiveness of face masks is still debatable, it appears they’re here to stay. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs to embark on a massive public education campaign to teach Americans best practices and potential pitfalls of wearing them.
“Central to this campaign must be the key message that masks do not in any way replace personal protective measures or social distancing but rather complement these strategies,” the think tank said.
Led by Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser to the think tank and a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, the report looked at responses in countries including China, South Korea, Spain and France, to see how they are relaxing their social distancing rules.
They also did a case study of Germany, which like the U.S. has seen a large number of cases and like the U.S. has a federal structure of government.
But Germany’s testing capacity and monitoring capabilities are advanced, with the public health service deploying one contact tracing team for every 20,000 inhabitants.
“According to the World Health Organization, countries with extensive testing have less than 10% of their tests come back positive. Germany is well below that benchmark with a positive result rate of 7.5%,” the report said.
Some German states are gradually reopening, albeit slowly, and schools are slated to reopen May 4, though large public gatherings are banned through Aug. 31, the Bipartisan Policy Center said.
When it comes to lessons for the U.S., the think tank said testing capacity needs to be tripled, up to about 5 million tests per week, to have confidence that the right people are being monitored.
It’s also critical states don’t push too far, too fast. Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Denmark all are allowing two to three weeks between each new reopening.
For the U.S., the BPC recommended at least 14 days between each phase. That’s the maximum incubation time for COVID-19, so it would give health officials a chance to evaluate any hiccups with reopening.
As for schools, the U.S. will be able to watch some East Asian nations that continue schooling through the summer to gauge their experience and draw lessons before classes are slated to start in the late summer or fall in the U.S.