Philanthropist and billionaire Bill Gates believes that the best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, is to “quite dramatically” ramp up testing while keeping social distancing measures in place for six to ten weeks.
“We have to raise the level of testing and the prioritization of that testing quite dramatically ... so that we take the medical problem and really stop it before there's a large number of deaths,” the Microsoft co-founder said in a 30-minute interview with CNN.
Currently, there are more than 580,000 cases of the coronavirus infection worldwide. More than 15% of those cases are in the U.S. And experts worry that there are much more cases going undetected and prolonging the pandemic.
"We need testing on a much larger scale," University of California Irvine Epidemiology Department Chair and Professor Dr. Karen Edwards told Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker. "Despite how frightening the current numbers are... this is probably not even an accurate estimate of what the number of cases are in the country… this is a drop in the bucket.”
Gates echoed that view, emphasizing that testing and a national shutdown are the two key pillars to combating the coronavirus.
“The sooner you engage in the shutdown, the easier it is to get to that peak,” he explained. “We have not peaked … any part of the country that has cases, and truthfully, because of our problems with testing.”
Harvard Global Health Institute Director Dr. Ashish Jha echoed that view, saying that once the country gets “excellent testing capacity” then the social distancing measures put in place can relax.
“The sooner we take this medicine — which is tough medicine — the sooner we’ll be out of it,” Gates said.
“Right now it’s fairly chaotic,” Gates said. “Somebody can get a test every day without symptoms [in one place] and a medical worker in another location doesn’t have access to a test.”
Some states are reporting a shortage in test kits, which was likely to have “real consequences across the country,” Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) said in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence.
About 65,000 coronavirus tests are being performed daily on Americans, according to the New York Times. Trump stated on Friday that 100,000 tests were being administered per day.
Public health experts are calling for about 150,000 tests a day. The Gates Foundation is working on an initiative to produce and distribute self-administered COVID-19 testing.
“Testing is how you know what’s going on,” Gates explained. “That’s where you see those red dots. That is the indicator that will tell you if we’re not doing enough of a shutdown or can back off.“
‘The whole country has to be in this together’
States like New York and California have implemented shut downs to limit the spread.
And “we wish that we shut down even sooner in places like New York,” added Gates. “Then you would not had the medical overload that is such a huge challenge for them … the whole country has to be in this together.”
U.S. President Donald Trump espouses a different view, recently arguing that restrictions should be loosened by Easter Sunday, April 12, with healthy people returning to work while people who are sick remain isolated.
“The expression ‘We can do two things at one time,’ ... and that includes not just economics, that also includes life and death,” Trump said. “We have to keep it that way.”
The U.S. stock market and economy have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. And the financial situation is becoming increasingly problematic for millions of Americans as unemployment claims rose to an historic 3.2 million for the week that ended March 21.
Trump asserted that the U.S. “wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this,” adding: “America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”
Gates pushed back against that view, recognizing the economic damage but arguing that the public health measures are more important.
“Until we get the number of cases in the country down to small numbers … we need to make this our top priority,” Gates stated. “And it is super painful to drive this very high degree of social isolation … Until we get the certainty that we have these low numbers, I doubt even if you told people that they should be buying new houses and cars … I doubt they’re going to want to do that.”
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.