Opinion: What if we treated COVID-19 like an alien invasion?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s journalists follow the facts, because you deserve to know what’s really going on.

I always thought if Earth was invaded by invisible creatures from Mars seeking to destroy human life the whole world would join together to find ways to fight the common enemy. Surely, peoples across the globe would lay aside their differences and fight together when national borders, race, gender, education, money, or military might anywhere could not protect people everywhere against an invisible enemy that uses our own human immune system to kill us.

I am not so sure anymore.

National governments everywhere are behaving very badly. They all have followed the same playbook: (Phase 1) ignore the problem; (Phase 2) conceal or deny there is a problem; (Phase 3) minimize the problem; (Phase 4) belatedly react and abruptly declare there is a problem; and (Phase 5) form “crisis” committees to seek solutions and the physical and human resources needed to address the problem; (Phase 6) look to blame someone else for the problem.

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China did this - and so is the United States. Both national governments also seek to make political gains from this global pandemic. Unlike China, however, state and local governments in America see the problem and have taken much more immediate action. Unfortunately, the only thing they can do to protect against an invisible enemy is lock down everything and isolate everybody so this alien enemy can not find them. China has shown that can slow down the attack — but is not enough. It also destroys both the economy and society.

Two clear lessons from China: 1) “social isolation” does not work at scale; and 2) waiting to test and isolate when people show symptoms does not protect others or stop the spread.

What worked in China, Singapore, and South Korea is massive and repeated testing to identify those whose bodies have been invaded and then to isolate them together to monitor the disease and ease the suffering. Most will recover, and only if the disease worsens (or for the most vulnerable populations) do they move them to intensive care facilities.

It's really not complicated. Instead of quarantining cruise ships full of healthy people with those who have the virus — you separate and isolate together everyone who tests positive. This destroys the alien's "invisibility" cloak by making visible its "footprints" in the sand. It can show where is the virus — and just as important - where the virus is not, so that more normal life might begin to resume.

Our national governments must work together to share information, facilities and supplies to address the problem. Technical experts are actually attempting to do so. American and Chinese doctors are working furiously to create medicines to test, prevent and cure this disease based on the virus code published by the Chinese. Experienced Chinese doctors could help train medical personnel in America. China is now supplying millions of masks and ventilators in many parts of the globe. America is finally beginning to seek China's help with supplies - but we need to heed the hard lessons they learned: Repeated testing and isolation together of those infected, if we want to avoid destroying our medical system as well as our economy.

Joseph R. Bankoff is professor of the practice and former chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at

Georgia Institute of Technology. The views here are his own.

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