My fellow Pennsylvanians, thank you for joining me. I want to talk with you about where we are with this pandemic and where we hope to be.
Each day we face a new set of realities and a new set of fears. But we Pennsylvanians are facing these new realities with a calm determination that has been nothing short of extraordinary. We’re doing this together even as we have been apart, and I want to thank every one of you for facing this crisis in such courageous and masterful ways. We really are an amazing commonwealth peopled by amazing citizens. In the end, I believe we will get through this because of the kind of people we are. But, I understand that even the most courageous and determined people need to have some sense of where we’re headed. So, in the next few minutes I will do my best to lay out a broad outline of what lies ahead for us.
The process of dealing with this COVID-19 crisis and getting through it has, as I see it, three stages.
The first stage – the one we’re in now – is focused on simply buying time to allow our healthcare system to build the capacity we need it to have. We cannot afford to allow it to be overwhelmed. We cannot allow this deadly disease to continue to claim more victims at an increasing rate. We want this stage to be over with as quickly as possible.
The second stage will be a transitional one as well; it will take us from where we are now to the new normal that we’ll face down the road. And finally, the third stage is that new normal.
Let me outline each of these giving you my best guesses as to what it will take to get us through them. Let me start with phase one – where we are now. Again, the goal in this first phase is to do the best we can with the scarce resources we have to keep our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. By doing that we can with the resources we have to keep more people safe.
We have worked hard to buy time to do the things we should have done to be ready for the crisis. It is a strategy that has been aimed at keeping us safe, but it has involved a whole host of painful sacrifices.
Families have not been able to gather for the holiest of celebrations because we need to shelter in place. Children have not been able to go to school because we closed them. Businesses have had to close to keep employees and customers safe. And, all of us have had to distance ourselves in so many ways from the world we want to embrace, chief among them our families and friends.
So far, this strategy is working.
We are making real progress – as you can see from Dr. Levine’s daily updates – in bending the curve and flattening the surge. People are still dying, the economy is still tanking, and we know that the draconian steps we are now taking cannot go on forever. The question is, ‘How do we get through this phase as quickly and successfully as possible?’ The answer is still far from perfectly clear, but we know that getting to the next phase will come down to at least two things.
First, we will need to satisfy ourselves that the likely march of this disease will not outstrip our ability to treat people with the virus. So, we are doing everything we can to keep each of us from infecting the people around us. And, we need to continue to see real progress in this area. We want to see a drop in the number of new cases. We want to see sustained increases in the materials healthcare workers need to fight this disease like personal protective equipment including masks, face shields, gloves and gowns, ventilators, beds. We do not have a hard and fast metric for exactly when we achieve victory, but we know we need to develop one. And we will, soon. Second, the transitional phase when we start to reopen our world, our economy and our lives will depend on more and better testing. We need tests that can tell us when we are sick, and we need tests that can tell us when we are immune.
Dr. Fauci has told us that we are only a week or so away from a roll-out of an effective antibody test that will be able to tell us if we have developed an immunity to the COVID-19 virus. That immunity will allow our frontline healthcare workers and our first responders to do their work unencumbered by the fear of infection to the extent that we satisfy ourselves that we can safely go back to work, to school or to places of worship we can begin the work of moving out of this painful phase. And the hope is that we can do it in a reasonable timeframe. The real goal, of course, is to get to the point that we can fully resume our normal lives. This will require time along with a recognition that the new ‘normal’ will be different from the old ‘normal’ we had grown used to. We will need to build stockpiles of the things a healthcare system needs to face deadly infectious diseases. We will need time to develop effective treatments for these infectious diseases – maybe even a cure. We will need time to develop vaccines. And, we will all need time to rebuild our lives and our communities in ways that conform to the new altered normal.
In the meantime, we need to keep doing what we’re doing to restrain this deadly virus. And, this includes the need to rebuild our sense of hope. We cannot afford to become complacent, but we need to recognize the fact that we will get through this. The good public servants in the commonwealth will keep doing everything they can to get us through this. The heroic healthcare and emergency service workers in each of our hospitals and each of our communities will keep doing what they can to get us through this. And, each of us will keep doing what we have been doing to get us all through this. I recognize that what is being asked of each of us is hard. Before this awful disease attacked us, we could be who we were, defined by our jobs, our friends, our neighbors and our families and our pastimes. Now, we have asked ourselves to isolate ourselves, to stop doing what we were doing or making or interacting. And, we could be forgiven for wondering if it’s worth it.
Well, by the numbers we have all seen – the reduction in the rate of increase of new cases, the flattening of the curve – we are defining ourselves in a new way. By doing nothing, by distancing ourselves from others, by staying home we are making a difference. We are saving lives. We are saving our children, our neighbors and our friends. By doing nothing, we are doing something extraordinary.
And for that I thank you.