Over the past 30 years, the world has experienced multiple potential pandemic events including SARS, MERS, H1N1, the Ebola virus, and many others. Furthermore, as a healthcare worker, I’ve been trained to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis, and HPV by using universal precautions and participating in continuing education programs to keep up to date about these and other diseases.
Infectious diseases have been a part of my entire adult life and I have always been proud of the work performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health — all paid for by the people of the United States for the good of all humankind.
I first heard of the COVID19 outbreak in December 2019. At the time I and most healthcare professionals believed it was just another infectious disease, no more dangerous than most. I did worry that our more connected world in the year 2020 might let this virus spread further than previous outbreaks, but I was confident that the CDC, NIH, and WHO would use their combined expertise to control this virus, just as they have always done so in the past.
By February 2020 I began to realize that something was amiss with our response to the COVID19 outbreak. Backchannels monitored by me and many academic health professionals were curiously quiet, with little being said about the work being done to contain the virus, study its genetics, and determine its rate and mode of transmission.
This is pretty standard stuff and, like in many professions, chat rooms, podcasts, and informal conference calls always spring up when something out of the ordinary is happening. By March I was beginning to really become concerned, and I started cautioning friends and family to cancel travel plans and to ready themselves for some drastic public health measures.
By the end of March and into early April, my worst fears were realized as New York and New Jersey followed Oregon with massive outbreaks of COVID19. To help, I set to work designing and manufacturing a HEPA filter face mask, the first designs of which were worked out by a team at Rutgers University during the last Ebola outbreak, and distributed, free of charge, over 1,100 masks to healthcare and nursing facilities across New York and New Jersey.
I also helped set up in-house testing facilities at the University Hospital in Newark. One of my sons is a biomedical research technician and he volunteered to help run these PCR-based tests, working three times per week from mid-April to the end of July in the Newark facility, testing the healthcare workers working at the University Hospital.
The worst part of this pandemic for me is that any competent physician or public health doctor could (and did) predict what was going to happen if different steps weren’t taken at different times during the past year. The United States taught the rest of the world how to handle infectious disease outbreaks, and it saddens me that we are, by far, the hardest hit by COVID-19 and the least effective in containing its spread.
There is nothing political or sinister about the steps needed to contain this pandemic. It is science, pure and simple, and all we need to do is listen to the experts.