“We choose to go to the Moon.” With those words in 1961 President John F. Kennedy rallied Americans toward a shared goal of astounding ambition. The task was daunting, even implausible. At the time the longest manned U.S. space flights had lasted barely over 15 minutes and had yet to orbit the planet. But government leadership paired with private sector ingenuity and broad public support made the implausible possible, and eight years later the United States landed the first humans on the moon.
Today, we face a similarly daunting challenge: a viral pandemic that has spread to every state and is on track to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans while ravaging our economy and sequestering our society. Meeting this national challenge will require the same kind of ambition, government leadership, and ingenuity that the country mustered in going to the moon. We need to launch—and right now—a public health Apollo program engaging all states and all Americans to end this crisis and prevent future ones.
There are things we can learn from other countries. Progress in South Korea, Singapore, and China suggests that COVID-19 can be slowed through social distancing measures, but it can only be kept under control through aggressive testing and surveillance to identify cases and comprehensive public health measures to identify and quarantine their close contacts. We are now employing social distancing strategies, but we lack the scale of personnel, resources, and systems needed to apply the rest of that formula here.