If Bill Gates were President of the United States right now, he would prioritize keeping people across America in isolation to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The clear message [would be] that we have no choice to maintain this isolation and that’s going to keep going for a period of time,” Bill Gates told TED curator Chris Anderson on Tuesday. “In the Chinese case, it was like six weeks, so we have to prepare ourselves for that and do it very well.”
According to Gates, “If you’re doing isolation well [nationally], within about 20 days you’ll see those numbers [of new cases] really change,” i.e., go down, ”…and that is a sign that you’re on your way.”
As president, Gates would also emphasize, “This is not going to be easy. We need a clear message about that,” he said.
Currently, at least 179 million people in 18 states, 31 counties and 13 cities are being urged to stay home, according to a running tally by the New York Times.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, the number of new cases in the United States has still been trending higher. By comparison, “the curve” has generally flattened in China and South Korea, as the chart, below, shows.
In his role as the co-founder of his namesake Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has significant experience combating infectious diseases including malaria, HIV and polio.
Gates’ comments come as President Donald Trump announced he would like businesses in America to reopen by Easter, which is April 12.
“America will again, and soon, be open for business — very soon — a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting,” Trump said in a press briefing on Monday. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. … We can do two things at one time.”
He reiterated his position on Tuesday for a Fox News virtual town hall.
“You can’t just come in and say let’s close up the United States of America, the biggest, the most successful country in the world by far,” he said, suggesting that a massive recession would also cost lives.
Medical experts, on the other hand, say it is too soon, that reopening businesses and schools could have detrimental consequences for the spread of the pandemic.
“Obviously Trump is not rooted in reality,” Dr. Tina Tan, a board member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and a staff member at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, said.
Gates also emphasizes that it is important to prioritize the toll on human health over money.
“It is really tragic that the economic effects of this are very dramatic. Nothing like this has ever happened to the economy in our lifetimes,” Gates said.
“But money, you know bringing the economy back and doing money, that’s more of a reversible thing than bringing people back to life. And so we’re going to take the pain in the economic dimension — huge pain — in order to minimize the pain in the disease and death dimension.”