It’s entirely understandable that the national conversation has turned to a single question: “When can we get back to normal?” The shutdown has caused immeasurable pain in jobs lost, people isolated and worsening inequity. People are ready to get going again.
Unfortunately, although we have the will, we don’t have the way — not yet. Before the United States and other countries can return to business and life as usual, we will need some innovative new tools that help us detect, treat and prevent covid-19.
It begins with testing. We can’t defeat an enemy if we don’t know where it is. To reopen the economy, we need to be testing enough people that we can quickly detect emerging hotspots and intervene early. We don’t want to wait until the hospitals start to fill up and more people die.
The second area where we need innovation is contact tracing. Once someone tests positive, public-health officials need to know who else that person might have infected.
Naturally, anyone who tests positive will immediately want to know about treatment options. Yet, right now, there is no treatment for covid-19. Hydroxychloroquine, which works by changing the way the human body reacts to a virus, has received a lot of attention. Our foundation is funding a clinical trial that will give an indication whether it works on covid-19 by the end of May, and it appears the benefits will be modest at best.
But several more-promising candidates are on the horizon. One involves drawing blood from patients who have recovered from covid-19, making sure it is free of the coronavirus and other infections, and giving the plasma (and the antibodies it contains) to sick people. Several major companies are working together to see whether this succeeds.