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This will be a defining period of our lives

Andy Slavitt is a senior advisor to the Bipartisan Policy Centre. We interviewed Andy as part of our #PassTheMic series. Here’s some of what he had to say.

Up until now, we’ve all been dealing with shock and a lack of context at being able to respond to a situation that’s out of most people’s experience base. So there are all kinds of fears and adjustments that have had to happen.

However, we have learned at this point in time that there is a good and effective way to respond to coronavirus. We’ve seen examples of it around the world.

If you look at the widespread use of masks and handwashing in countries like the Czech Republic, the alert system in Hong Kong, and high amounts of testing in New Zealand. Vietnam and Germany have had a disciplined approach towards it, and in Greece and New Zealand they’ve emphasized the color coding system.

It’s not just one thing that works, but there is a very set group of things that together we know are effective at allowing people to get back to normal life.

So, we have to do those things, and particularly in places where you have limited hospital capacity. Plus, of course, we need to implement them in a coordinated way.

A difficult cultural change

In the case of a pandemic, there unfortunately can’t just be one priority. You have to have several equal priorities if your end goal is to reduce unnecessary deaths.

You have to start with making sure that people who are in settings that are endemic to spread are managed effectively. So you start with prisons, detention centers, public housing, nursing homes, and factories. Then people who are particularly at risk because of a medical condition.

Second, public awareness and the political response is critical to get right, which means encouraging social distancing and hand-washing — and really leading people through what is a difficult cultural change and giving people the fortitude to stick with it. This also means being able and willing to make adjustments so that life can be just a little bit better for other people.

Obviously, there is also economic support that is easier in some places than others, but it is critical work from a healthcare support standpoint.

Then there is a set of tools so that when you have outbreaks, they’re contained to what I call “small campfires” instead of “large forest fires.” This particularly includes things like testing, contact tracing, isolation, and surveillance.

Rising to the occasion

There’s no sleeping on this issue as long as it is rampaging in other parts of the globe. You can have success against coronavirus anywhere in the world, but as long as there are policies and environments elsewhere where this isn’t being approached, that’s a global threat to everybody.

Wealthy countries have to ask the question: What obligation do we have to the poorer countries in the world? We are highly dependent on international trade. So we’re always going to be at risk of continued spread as long as we don’t have a more coordinated global response.

What gives me optimism is people’s collective sacrifice and their will to come together. We’ve seen what people have done during the #StayHome movement and I think that will continue.

This will be over at some point, or at least the scary phase will be. And then there are two questions we’ll have to ask ourselves at that point. One is: how many people did we lose? The second is: what did we do to make things better for people along the way? What did we do to save every life possible?

Those are two things that everybody can have an impact on, both through social distancing and being there for their local and global community.

This will be a defining period of our lives. We have an enormous opportunity to show who we are and who we can be. I see a lot of people rising to that occasion.

These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

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