Hutch News Stories

Imperfect, widely used measures best option against COVID-19, argues Dr. Joshua Schiffer

We need tests, masks, treatments and vaccines to be widespread, not perfect, says infectious disease expert in New York Times editorial
photo of a woman wearing a cloth mask in a subway station while sitting on a bench and looking at her phone
A woman wearing a face mask waits on a ride on a New York City subway platform on Sept. 10, 2020. In a new editorial, Fred Hutch scientist Dr. Joshua Schiffer explains how we can slow the COVID-19 epidemic through widespread use of cloth face masks and other measures that are less than perfectly effective. Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The U.S. COVID-19 epidemic is still raging even after causing more than 200,000 deaths in this country alone. In a New York Times editorial on Oct. 4, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center infectious disease modeler Dr. Joshua Schiffer argued that our country must quickly test — and if effective, implement — a combination of measures, each moderately effective on its own, that would work together at the population level to control the spread of the coronavirus and blunt its deadliness.

Schiffer wrote that studies by his team and other experts show that many lives could be saved from COVID-19 by a broad-based, rapid rollout of frequent testing using less-than-perfect tests; universal use of cloth masks; early treatment of infected individuals; and widespread vaccination, even with a partially effective vaccine.

He wrote:

"The new coronavirus travels through populations too quickly and unpredictably for us to wait to tackle it until we have devised nearly flawless solutions. The widespread implementation of imperfect prevention measures, therapies and vaccines may be the fastest way to get a handle on the crisis.

"Even those communities in the United States that are faring relatively well against the virus right now are still dangerously close to a tipping point: Infection rates and deaths could shoot up again suddenly, as they did in several states this summer. But there is another possible tipping point, too, in the other direction.

"With more comprehensive use of even moderately effective prevention and treatment strategies, cases of infection and deaths could decrease substantially within weeks. It would be safer then to reopen schools and relax physical distancing restrictions."

Read Schiffer's complete editorial in the New York Times.

photo of two men and one woman sitting at the front of an auditorium with microphones. Behind them is a screen showing a scientific graph
Dr. Joshua Schiffer, center, speaks on a panel at Fred Hutch in 2018. Fred Hutch file photo

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Last Modified, October 05, 2020