Dr. Tom Frieden: Six months of coronavirus — good news, bad news and where we go next

PROGRAMMING ALERT: Watch Dr. Tom Frieden discuss this topic and more on “Your World” with Neil Cavuto at 4 p.m. EDT July 1 on Fox News Channel.

Six months into the pandemic of the novel coronavirus is a good time to look back and ahead. Here’s the bottom line: There’s only one enemy – the virus. We need to overcome the politicization of measures that protect all of us.

The good

We’ve learned a lot about the virus and how to stop it. Many communities have flattened the curve and kept it down. Some, including /islands such as New Zealand, have eliminated it. They’ve done this with a combination of two approaches.

The first is the 3 W’s: Wear a mask, wash your hands (or use sanitizer) and watch your distance.


The second is our Box It In strategy: strategic testing, effective isolation, rapid and sensitive contact tracing, and supportive quarantine.

We also know more about how to stay safe – remain at least six feet apart and meet outdoors if possible. And we’ve learned about conditions that are most dangerous, including indoor crowds with poor ventilation made up of people not wearing masks. The longer you’re exposed to a risky environment, the more likely you are to get infected.

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The bad

In many countries, including the U.S., COVID-19 has the upper hand. It has devastated economies, cost hundreds of millions of people their jobs, and killed more than half-a-million people globally, including nearly 130,000 in the U.S.

The disease has derailed lifesaving treatment for other conditions ranging from the care of heart attacks in the U.S. to protection against measles, malaria and maternal mortality in Africa.

And in case anyone still thinks the increase in cases is the result of an increase in tests, look at Arizona, Texas and Florida. In these three states, tests increased – by less than half. Meanwhile, diagnosed cases nearly tripled.

Increased case numbers aren’t being driven by more testing. They reflect the virus spreading explosively in many communities.

The more we fight among ourselves, the more the virus divides and conquers us.

One reason the virus is winning in much of the U.S. is that some leaders and some members of the public seem to think a single silver bullet will make it go away. We’ve pivoted from travel restrictions, to stay-at-home lockdowns, to ramping up testing, and are now focused on wearing masks.

In truth, each of these measures is important, but none of them will succeed without a comprehensive approach. Unfortunately, very few places in the U.S. have implemented all of them together as part of the kind of strategic attack on the virus that has led to success in many other countries.

The future in our hands

Although it’s crucial to quickly develop a safe and effective vaccine, we can’t cut any corners on safety. To build the public’s confidence, scientists need to be able to communicate openly and transparently about what we know, as we know it.

When we learn new information and change our tactics, it often shows that we are making progress – not that we’ve made a mistake.

The most important thing I can share from 30 years of fighting epidemics may be this: the best programs use real-time data to improve their responses and keep ahead of the viral enemy.

To make progress, we need to focus on the most meaningful metrics. Communities should report crucial indicators every week:

For what proportion of new cases is the likely source of infection known?

What is the average number of days between when someone feels sick and isolation, and what proportion are isolated within three days?

What proportion of cases occurs among people in quarantine? (This indicates success stopping the spread of the virus.)

These are important numbers to track, but few places do so and even fewer report results publicly. One local leader told me, “If we reported those every day, many would be zero every day.”

That’s exactly why we need this kind of meaningful indicator reported publicly – so we can support and hold accountable those at community, state and federal levels for steady progress keeping us safer.


As government officials look to restart our economy without rekindling the pandemic, we need to quickly figure out where the virus is spreading so we can stop it.

Two reports just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the most common place for people to get infected is in their own home. Because infected people often pass the virus to others they live with, some countries help those who are infected relocate to facilities outside the home where they can isolate until it’s safe to return.

We should consider this as a voluntary offer – do you want to risk infecting your children and parents, or do you want to check in to a hotel for a week or so until you’re no longer a risk to them? If we do this, the virus will recede faster and we can reopen the economy sooner. That’s a decision for communities and individuals to make.


The more we fight among ourselves, the more the virus divides and conquers us. The more people wear masks when near others, the less opportunity the virus has to spread.

Public health measures are the road to reopening our economy. We can minimize the risk of explosive spread if we recognize that we’re all in this together. We will be safer when our governments and all of us do our part.