A former White House public health official whose position was eliminated by President Donald Trump is calling for stronger national guidelines for when and how to reopen the economy.
Dr. Beth Cameron, who is currently vice president of global biology programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, was previously a senior director in the White House pandemic office under the National Security Council. The office was initially established by the Obama administration after the Ebola outbreak in 2014, but the Trump administration dissolved it as part of a departmental consolidation in 2018.
"I definitely think we would have been better prepared if we had an exercised senior team in the White House whose only job it was to look at pandemic threats," Cameron told Cheddar.
The job of the office was to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic and anticipate possible challenges and failure points, which Cameron said would have been especially useful early on in the federal government's coronavirus response during the height of uncertainty.
Now she is calling for a more robust White House Coronavirus Task Force that taps into the wealth of knowledge still available in the federal government to provide guidelines with specific metrics to shape state reopening plans.
"That's really the first priority because the economic recovery here and public health response are absolutely inextricably linked," Cameron said.
One possible benchmark is the ratio of positive tests to total tests. Cameron said the current ratio in Washington DC is 20 percent but should be closer to 3 percent. Raising the level of testing across the country should be a prerequisite to reopening.
The current outbreak among White House staff, she said, only underscores the need for more intensive testing and tracing before a full reopen is safe. "We've got a long way to go before the testing that is available in the White House is available to everyone else."
As the total number of cases in the U.S. continues to grow, the issue of travel also has not been "adequately addressed" in White House social distancing guidelines, according to Cameron.
"It's becoming obvious now that as some states are relaxing certain measures, people are moving from one place to another," she said. "Of course, they're going to. This is just another reason why we really need a set of metrics for the whole country and a unified response."
If the reopening process isn't handled properly, the country could see a new spike in cases over the summer in a lead up to the flu season.
"We should be looking at this more like stretching a rubber band and less like opening a door and opening the floodgates," she said.