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As every American is focused on the impact of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) on our health and economy, it is critical that we not forget that millions of Americans are already facing serious health issues such as colorectal cancer and will require effective treatment during the pandemic.  As medical facilities including hospitals become overburdened and unable to fully care for the expected huge influx of COVID-19 patients, how can we ensure that necessary medical treatments for people with colorectal cancer and other serious conditions are readily available and safe?

Public health officials acknowledge that our federal response in the early days of the virus was lacking and scarce testing supplies limited our ability to trace and isolate outbreaks. This is all the more reason we must not focus on the current status but where we will be in the coming weeks. We must be as aggressive as possible using all the resources our nation has available.

President Trump has rightly said that we are at war with an unseen but deadly enemy. As such, the administration is starting to call on the military to assist in the response. This is a strategy that needs to be rapidly accelerated. For example, as of this writing, there is a huge shortage of protective masks and the CDC is urging medical professionals to use bandanas or other make-shift protective gear if masks are not available. The Pentagon indicates they can provide five million masks today. The Administration must immediately act on this as well as address the manufacturing pipeline to assure a sufficient supply of masks once the military stockpile is depleted.

No other entity in our country can deploy personnel and resources as fast as the military. They are experts at quickly building mobile hospital units and they have more than 2,000 ventilators available. The Administration should not wait for this to be needed; all projections make clear our existing hospital system cannot handle what is quickly coming. And, by creating new facilities specifically aimed at treating COVID-19, we ensure that hospitals can continue to care for people with colorectal cancer and other serious diseases.

What is less known is the capacity of the military to conduct research. The Pentagon invests more in research than any other entity outside of NIH. We need the military utilizing its full capacity for research on COVID-19.

Now it may be necessary for Congress to take some action to fully engage the military in fighting the virus. Our nation is rightly careful about how far the military can involve itself with domestic affairs. Should congressional action be required to bring the full power of the military to bear on the virus, please contact your representative and senators and demand immediate action—lives are at stake here.

Finally, while we look to our federal, state, and local officials for leadership, much of the responsibility to fight this virus lies with each of us. The CDC has easy to follow guidelines to help limit the chance you will get the virus or give it to others. Delay any elective surgeries or other medical treatments that can be put off without harm to the patient. Adhere to any decisions from state or local officials regarding the size of groups, closings, or shelter in place requirements. And above all, remember we are all in this together and nobody needs to hoard that much toilet paper.

Follow the Colorectal Cancer Alliance's updates on COVID-19 (coronavirus) here

Header image courtesy of the Military Health System. 


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