Top healthcare professionals send letter to U.S. leaders saying it’s time to shut back down, start over and do it right

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

With coronavirus spikes nationwide, key experts ask decision makers to prioritize public health


WASHINGTON– More than 150 health professionals have joined with U.S. PIRG in calling on America’s leaders to shut back down, start over and do it right to deal with the uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus in many parts of the United States.They sent a letter Wednesday to the Trump Administration, Congressional leadership, and state governors calling for resuming stay at home restrictions, increasing testing capacity, and ramping up production of personal protective equipment. 

Signers of the letter include: Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD-University of Pennsylvania, Angela Rasmussen, PhD-Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, William Hanage, PhD-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Seth Trueger, MD, MPH-Northwestern University, Megan Ranney, MD, MPH-Brown University & GetUsPPE, and Saskia Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC-University of Arizona. 

“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.” 

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. In the ensuing five weeks, nearly 30,000 more Americans have died.

Many states reopened non-essential businesses, 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. According to an NPR survey, as of last month most states were far shortof 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 authors asked of federal and state leaders. “Take bold action to save lives — even when it means shutting down again.”