The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States came as a surprise with the Trump administration undermining the severity of this pandemic.
The federal government has come under criticism because of the slow response, lack of preparedness¹ and undermining the strain of COVID-19 to our healthcare system.
As infections rise, the US can learn from COVID-19 success stories in South Korea and Taiwan.
Deployment of the test/trace/quarantine model according to researchers is the best strategy to combat COVID-19. Unlike long incubation times with no accurate results like in Europe², the test/trace/quarantine approach reduces infection rates by keeping the virus at bay.
GPS tracking in South Korea facilitated their test/trace/quarantine approach with impressive results. The same happened in outside regions of Hubei, the epicenter of COVID-19
Artificial intelligence and machine learningtechnologies are enabling fast detection of the virus. South Korea is a good example here with the country, using data analytics for tracking movement of people and testing suspected contacts.
Unlike implementing lockdowns, test/trace/quarantine worked in Taiwan, with few cases reported compared to mainland China. The success of the test/trace/quarantine approach depends on fast detection times to avoid further spread.
Evidence from these examples is clear; The United States should adopt the test/trace/quarantine method to win this battle.
Is Social Distancing Working?
The solution to stemming the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing as recommended by CDC, WHO, and governments across the globe.
Epidemiologists agree that social distancing³ works effectively but in cases where people are not strict on these measures; the success rate is not high.
Measures such as washing hands and wearing masks are an added advantage as the world fights this virus.
Stopping the coronavirus comes down to quick responses as seen in South Korea and Taiwan.
Let us review measures to reduce infection rates and save more lives:
1. Testing Measures
The first step to addressing the spread of COVID-19 is increasing the rate of testing as done in South Korea. During the first days of the virus in South Korea, infection rates shot up with the death toll rising for 3 weeks in a row.
The Taiwan⁴ government adopted the testing approach and outnumbered the infection rates. Consequently, their health care system handled new cases smoothly without straining as seen in Italy. The US could win or lose this war and testing the virus early will prepare health workers to handle new cases and reduce death rates.
2. Tracing Contacts
Countries are getting it wrong with tracing contacts and according to researchers; this is the weak link in the fight against the coronavirus. A study conducted by Harvard University researchers has shown that contact tracing is critical in stopping the further spread of COVID-19.
The Hubei experience taught China that letting suspected contacts integrate with others leads to catastrophic results. This should not be happening in the US where the country had more time for preparation.
3. Strict Quarantine Measures
A quarantine approach works best for COVID-19 that requires isolating confirmed cases and handling those with suspected conditions. Quarantine⁵ measures have worked in Singapore and Thailand where both countries issued tight controls such as the Cruise Ship incident.
Passengers on the cruise ship in Thailand underwent 14-day quarantines and after examination, they were cleared. This stopped the spread of the virus. These measures according to the New York Times are not strictly followed in the US.
Analysis of Test/Trace/Quarantine Model
Data from countries hit with the coronavirus shows that TTQ works best because of discovering 95% of cases and giving health care workers more time to detect the remaining 5%. The goal is to complete 100%.
Closing this 5% worked well in Taiwan where the government traced suspected cases within a short time and reduced this gap. The mortality rate is critical for TTQ because of combining with new cases to understand the detection rate.
Based on cumulative computations, evidence has shown differences between countries using the TTQ model⁶ and not using it. For example, regions using TTQ show reduced cases and increased infections for those not using TTQ.
Considering ratio variations, it becomes easy to establish cumulative cases versus cumulative deaths. Maximum testing matters as determining infection rates aids in preparations and treatment.
Hospital capacity and mortality rate are factors under consideration when using the TTQ framework. The COVID-19 outbreak is teaching us that keeping up with the infection rates by increasing testing works as seen in China.
The fatality rate from COVID-19 reduced compared to infection rates and this helped China to address the pandemic within a short time. Detection rates are vital in preparation for outbreak tipping point. South Korea is a good example in this case.
Despite Italy experiencing a high death toll, the country is using lockdowns to contain the outbreak with success evident in the last few days. Mortality rates co-relate with daily cases and by using the TQM system, it is easy to stem the virus outbreak.
The test/trace/quarantine method supports the healthcare system⁷ of a country without burdening health workers. Italy is a good example as it’s health care system came under strain because of increasing daily cases.
Italy experienced increased patient numbers with more suspected cases reported. This further complicated the situation but with social distancing, the positive results started appearing with declining infection rates.
Does the Test/Trace/Quarantine Method have errors?
Measuring mortality rate creates inconsistent patterns given that mortality numbers delay continues in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
From the time of the outbreak to peak levels, the ratio changes and could offer misleading assumptions. Researchers from John Hopkins agree that analyzing the graphical loop exposes these errors and prompts quick responses.
Secondly, the ratio changes and mortality could offer inaccurate figures because of increasing variations. For example, infection rates⁸ from progress curves in a graph tell us about the likely outcomes but sometimes do not consider underlying variables such as detection rates.
The #TTQ model changes because it is a denominator and offers misleading trends about the scale of a pandemic. The Italy situation applies, as the country could not contain more patients as infections soared.
Financial and Mental Implications of Lockdowns
The COVID-19 situation is creating panic around the globe and with the US struggling to contain the pandemic, psychologists claim the worst is yet to come.
There is distress in financial markets around the world. The World Bank estimates that lockdowns will hurt poor countries the most. Airline companies operate on a fixed cost model and with bankruptcies happening in Europe, the recession is coming fast.
Mental health because of isolation has shown to affect the psychological well-being of people and the same is happening in the current COVID-19 outbreak. More countries are initiating lockdowns with stress levels rising as the pandemic unfolds.
Fear about COVID-19 is affecting the mental health of people because of straining their environments. Humans are social animals and lockdowns teach us the importance of socialization to mental health.
Is a Vaccine Reliable?
Among the solutions to COVID-19, vaccine development has shown to stop infectious diseases. Coronavirus, unlike other flu infections, spreads fast and at a wide-scale. The United States, Japan, and China are leading the race in searching for the next vaccine.
Online hackathons to develop solutions for the COVID-19 outbreak are currently ongoing to find vaccine solutions. The cost-effectiveness of vaccines according to researchers makes them ideal for stopping the COVID-19 outbreak.
There is hope for ending COVID-19 and Action is needed fast
The test/trace/quarantine method is an effective solution for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and with the success in Taiwan and South Korea, the United States should adopt this model to reduce infection rates.
Efficient testing is the best solution to the COVID-19 outbreak and governments should focus on increased deployments to curb infection rates. Testing gaps as seen in the South Korean case should offer direction for the US as the country grapples with the pandemic. Without testing policies, the tracing and quarantine processes become ineffective.
¹Lack of Preparedness, ²Europe, ³Social Distancing, ⁴Taiwan, ⁵Quarantine, ⁶TTQ Model, ⁷Healthcare System, ⁸Infection Rates