Coronavirus: ACP supports scale back of social distancing based on evidence

April 20, 2020

The organization warns not to make the move too soon.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) say they support the Trump administration’s goal of scaling back social distancing but warns that any such moves should be based on evidence and not be undertaken prematurely, according to a news release.

The release calls for an evidence-based approach ensuring key essential elements are in place and properly scaled in communities before any social distancing measures are eased in order to protect the public from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“We agree with the goals of the administration’s guidance,” Robert McLean, MD, MACP, president of ACP, says in the release.  “However, premature easing of restrictions could lead to a resurgence of the virus and potentially overwhelm health system capacity and result in grave consequences for the health and well-being of millions of Americans.”

The release lays out five necessary elements that must be in place and scaled up at the population and health care system level for the restrictions to be safely eased. These elements are not currently ready in the majority of communities.

On the population level, the first element is screening and testing. Reliable testing for COVID-19 and accurate and reliable antibody testing on a scale to accurately determine a sustained downward trajectory is key. This testing should come with consent and sufficient protections for patients.

The administration should scale up contact tracing for those who’ve tested positive which balances public health needs with confidentiality and privacy protections for patients. This piggybacks on statements made by the current head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that this contact tracing is critical to preventing further sustained community transmission, the release says.

The third element is the need for sufficient workforce and supply capacity do testing, analysis, and follow up.

On the health care system level, personal protective equipment for all frontline physicians, nurses, and other frontline health care professionals is a key element to relaxing the social distancing measures.

The final element is ensuring sufficient hospital, physician, and health system capacity is available to treat patients with COVID-19, the release says.

While the ACP notes that the Trump administration has given state and local officials the authority to make their own decisions about easing distancing guidelines, it also calls on the federal government to do more ensuring that the required tests, workforces capacity, supplies, and personal protective equipment are available and distributed as well.

The release says that until an effective vaccine and therapies are available, sustained social distancing must be accepted as “the new normal.”

“Our approaches to easing social distancing protocols from the COVID-19 pandemic must be guided and supported by the best available evidence,” McLean says. “The health of the American public must remain paramount.”