These are times that try men’s souls. The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst natural disaster since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920. As of March 25, there have been 436,843 cases worldwide, 19,656 deaths, and 13,278 in serious or critical condition.
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have shown true leadership in the face of an insidious and lethal enemy. Special kudos goes to Prime Minister Netanyahu for being the first to describe the fight against coronavirus as a “war.” Israel knows a thing or two about survival, with existential threats surrounding the small country. The Prime Minister has been unfairly attacked by his critics and opponents. He fully realized early on that this was a life and death struggle. Unity of purpose and focus was and is essential. Israel has to be a “light unto the nations.” The Prime Minister has done his part well.
Teva, which is an Israeli pharmaceutical generic giant, has shipped ten million doses of hydroxychloroquine to the United States. Gilead, which is another Israeli company, has been at the forefront of production of anti-virals and has been testing remdesivir against coronavirus. Many who have received it on a compassionate-use basis have recovered, including the case report from Washington State a few weeks ago in the New England Journal of Medicine. I have spent hours on end trying to get remdesivir for critically ill coronavirus patients.
Another Israeli company, Sight Diagnostics, is now testing a two-drop pin prick blood test to determine if one had or has the virus at Sheba Medical Center. If this test works out, it will be a “game changer.” The Prime Minister on March 21, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 24, both mentioned the importance of antibody testing via a blood test so that we can figure out who had the virus and who may yet get the virus. This is a crucial determination.
Another Israeli establishment, formerly under the Defense Ministry, Migal Galilee Research Institute, using work over the past four years against the avian coronavirus, is developing a vaccine against human coronavirus. It has not yet been deemed safe or effective, but clinical trials are beginning.
President Trump has shown true leadership in the most difficult of times. He has assembled an effective task force and brought the private sector into the fight like nobody’s business. His embrace of the private sector has been outstanding and extraordinary. He has been a Commander-in-Chief in a war with an invisible enemy. It is a lot easier fighting an enemy one can see. If, G-d forbid, one percent (hopefully it will be much lower) of infected coronavirus patients die, there will be more deaths in America than some actual battlefield wars. We all hope and pray it will not come to this. The case fatality rate continues to drop here, not only because of increased testing, but because of excellent medical care and treatment in America. Yes, more respirators and medications are badly needed, especially in hard-hit areas like New York and the New York metro area. New treatments for all viral diseases will be developed down the road because of this crisis, just as they were developed after the AIDS epidemic.
In order to move forward and end the shutdown, I suggest that the president mandate that everyone wear an N95 mask (as cumbersome as it may be) and face shield (ultimately this will be possible, although not as of today), just as has been done in China and South Korea. An N95 mask and face shield for every American should be our goal. Obviously, all of the other CDC recommendations must be heeded, including frequent hand-washing. Just as physicians, nurses, and other health care workers have to wear masks and face shields, so should workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. Unfortunately, this has not been done, because of a shortage of N95 masks. The president is on the right track to end the lockdowns as soon as possible. Having enough masks, I believe, will make this even more feasible. Many other factors like having an antibody test will help, as well.
Both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu are doing as much as is humanly possible. Many lives will be saved because of their profound leadership skills and experience. They deserve our thanks and appreciation above all else.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.