Dr. James Galloway is a former assistant U.S. Surgeon General, a cardiovascular medical doctor and a public health expert. He served as a Senior Federal Official on Health for Pandemic Influenza and Bioterrorism for the Department of Homeland Security and as the Director of the Office of Health System Collaboration for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Galloway is a Tucson resident who has been monitoring the global impacts of the outbreak, and governments’ responses to them. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
What steps could the Trump Administration have taken earlier to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
On January 9, an outbreak of an “unidentified and possibly new” viral disease in central China was reported and was sending alarms across Asia. And it was on March 11 when Trump gave his first speech acknowledging the seriousness of the Coronavirus. Things that could have been done earlier are things like accepting the World Health Organization’s offer for testing kits, or organizing and directing individuals, doctors and hospitals about how and where to get the tests for patients. Providing leadership to the states, counties and localities as CDC usually does early on in a situation like this, and allowing states to use the testing kits they had developed without federal approval.
Going forward, how can national governments work with disease and healthcare experts to effectively respond to this rapidly changing situation?
There’s several critically important aspects of this. Unmuzzling the experts, allowing the scientist to help guide from their perspectives as we move forward, collaborating among states, local counties and local municipalities with a leadership that allows for uniform implementation of appropriate rules and regulations and guidelines, and collaboration across the globe with other nations and with the World Health Organization in a meaningful way to gather the expertise, as well as the information from our global partners.
Do you think other countries are taking the right steps by doing total lockdowns to prevent the spread?
It depends on the situation. The response needs to be graded depending on the severity of the disease in the population. In places that have low rates, no it’s probably not appropriate. In places that have high rates, like Italy does, it’s very appropriate, because they’re overrunning their healthcare system, and so the idea of flattening the curve, that critically important idea to minimize the exposure of individuals so that we can maintain our integrity as a healthcare system is incredibly important.
Is it a positive sign that the number of new cases in China is decreasing? Can we look to them as an example for how to get past this pandemic?
China being the autocratic government that it is, was able to impose very strict rules quite early and were able to contain the outbreak pretty effectively. That’s why they’re seeing the downturn already and within the United States, we hope that we’ll be able to make a similar type of reduction in the number of cases within six weeks to a few months. I do think that with the interventions over time, we will be able to see a decrease and it’s also likely that this will continue to be a flu-like disease that many of us will have antibodies to in the future that won’t be near as severe. The issue right now is that no one has antibodies to it so it’s extremely contagious.
Anything else you’d like to add?
One, I think it’s critically important that we maintain our healthcare workers. I think that we haven’t been as successful in protecting them as we should be, and they’re our critical lifeline. We need to make sure that the nurses, the techs, the doctors, PAs, nurse practitioners have adequate supplies to be able to protect themselves as they protect us and treat us. Secondly, I think that regardless of what’s happened up to this point, it’s now up to us as a nation of Americans to fight this disease and to combat this pandemic. We must follow the CDC guidelines. And we will overcome this, there will be casualties, but we will indeed get through this.