Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin co-authored an opinion piece calling for a ‘Manhattan Project’ style approach to fighting the virus. (Source: NBC’s Meet the Press)

Tech Alone Can’t Mitigate Virus Issues Due to Lack of Coordination

America needs a “Manhattan Project” style approach to the fight against COVID-19, but is failing miserably at cobbling together such an effort, according to a story in MIT Technology Review.

Quoting a Boston Globe op-ed piece, the tech magazine said shortages in medical supplies like ventilators, protective masks and test kits have made it impossible to effectively protect victims and medical personnel. It advocates a broad coordination, as suggested in the Globe essay:

“Just as the Manhattan Project engaged the expertise of academia, science, industry, military, and government in a massive effort that led to the development of the atomic bomb, we, too, can marshal the kind of far-reaching collaboration that can produce meaningful results,” U.S. Sen. Edward Markey wrote along with Massachusetts General Hospital president Peter Slavin.

The president finally invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure enough equipment is available, but failed to do so until mid-March. It takes time for industries to retool to produce the equipment. Few U.S. companies decided to make the effort, aside from those in Silicon Valley, Ford and GM.

While social distancing appears to have reduced the anticipated need for ventilators, protective medical gear is running out.

A report from the Health & Human Services inspector general, published April 6, described “widespread shortages,” orders being delayed months, and a dangerously disrupted supply chain. Without central administration from the federal government, desperate hospitals and state governments have been left competing with each other for supplies. As one administrator told the inspector general, everyone is “trying to pull [PPE] from the same small bucket.”

In addition, the federal government’s emergency stockpile of supplies has nearly run out, according to the Inspector General’s report. The problem is with China making the majority of U.S. medical supplies, since shipments sit in warehouses awaiting inspection.

The MIT story points out that the issue could remain a thorny one until researchers produce a safe vaccine, which could take a year or more.

According to a Harvard University report cited in, the U.S. needs to do 20 million tests a day to reopen safely. It quotes the opinions of 45 experts.

“…we need to be testing 5 million a day by early June in order to start reopening the country, increasing to 20 million by mid-summer to fully end the shutdown,” the story said. “From the start, the World Health Organization has said the only way to beat the virus is to ‘test, test, test.’ That message seems to be finally getting through.”

Additionally, researchers say they won’t know until summer whether new anti-viral drugs that are being tested now are effective.