The government will also need to deploy the National Guard or the Army to convert facilities like convention centers, hotels and parking lots into testing sites, isolation units and humane quarantines.
In the absence of government leadership, companies can still take it upon themselves to help the effort. In France, for example, LVMH, which owns luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, announced Sunday it was repurposing perfume production lines to make hand sanitizer and other anti-viral products.
Once supplies and space are secured, human capacity will need to be addressed. There are not enough health care workers who are trained and equipped to treat emergent, contagious lung infections in intensive care units. If those workers fall ill and are themselves quarantined and isolated — as some of them almost certainly will be, given the present lack of protective equipment — more will have to be trained and prepared.
That challenge will be exacerbated by the fact that large conferences and training sessions are likely to be verboten in the months ahead. The federal government can help by conveying the urgency of the need — and calling on health care workers to volunteer for such training — and then by creating the necessary virtual modules and webinars.
Federal leaders can also help by calling on states to waive licensing requirements for out-of-state medical workers, as Massachusetts has already done. There will not be one giant outbreak here in the United States, but rather many smaller ones that will vary in scope, size and duration. That means some parts of the country will have much greater need than others. The ability of any worker to deploy quickly from a low-need area to a high-need one will save valuable time as the number of confirmed cases surges in the days ahead.
Public Works for Public Health
During World War II, housewives, students, retirees and the unemployed moved into the labor force to help build tanks, planes and armaments. It was a full-scale national effort — and something similar is called for today.
This will take some creativity. In Spain, final year medical students are being pulled into clinics and hospitals for more routine tasks to allow staff to focus on critical cases. In the United States, retired hospital workers are being urged back into the work force to provide needed expertise.