WASHINGTON, July 17, 2020 –  A group of high-profile public health experts joined with U.S. PIRG to release a letter Friday calling on America’s leaders to shut back down, start over and do it right in light of the uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus in many parts of the United States. Signees include: University of Pennsylvania’s Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s William Hanage, PhD, Northwestern University’s Seth Trueger, MD, MPH and Yale School of Medicine’s Reshma Ramachandran, MD, MPP. 

“Our decision makers need to hit the reset button,” said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Director. “Continuing on the path we’re on now will result in widespread suffering and death. And for what? Health experts laid out criteria for how to reopen safely. It’s time to listen to them.” 

U.S. PIRG plans to gather support from additional experts and will update the letter with new signers throughout next week before delivering it to a set of governors, leadership in Congress and the Trump administration. 

The letter points out that more than 117,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 by mid-June. If the U.S. response had been as effective as Germany’s, estimates show that America would have had only 36,000 COVID-19 deaths in that period. If the U.S.’s response had been as effective as South Korea, Australia or Singapore’s, fewer than 2,000 Americans would have died. 

U.S PIRG and those signing the letter recognize that many states reopened non-essential businesses and loosened shelter-in-place orders too quickly and did so without meeting key criteria that health experts laid out to reopen safely. Those criteria include:

  • Enough daily testing capacity to test everyone with flu-like symptoms plus anyone they have been in close contact with over the last 2 weeks (at least 10 additional tests per symptomatic person). Currently, the U.S. has only 35 percent of the testing capacity it needs to meet that threshold. 
  • A workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. That’s 210,000 more contact tracers the totals in April. Most states are far short of the number of contact tracers they need. 
  • More personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep essential workers such as health professionals, emergency responders and grocery store clerks safe.

Public officials must take charge in these deeply troubling times, the letter explained.

“Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard,” the letter said about the responsibility our government must take. “Take bold action to save lives — even when it means shutting down again.”

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.  www.uspirg.org