(WGHP) — If we’re going to react better to the next pandemic – and there will be a next pandemic – we need to take what we learned from this one and make sure we have a better plan.
“Early on, while we were working on vaccines and starting to get treatment science going, we should have dumped a huge amount of resources into testing,” said Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “You know, if you think about it, how hard it was to get testing in those days, it still is, and it’s two years later.”
Joann Gruber is an epidemiologist who now teaches public health at Elon University but spends much of her career at the CDC and says any time you face a pandemic, you need an “all in” approach.
“You isolate sick people. Maybe you use quarantine. Maybe you use testing. Maybe you use masking, depending if it’s a respiratory disease or not,” Gruber said. “It’s not either/or when we’re thinking about interventions because it’s the combined effect that can really prevent disease spread.”
Many of those were options we simply didn’t have during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.
“A lot of people in 1918 died of secondary bacterial infections. We didn’t have antibiotics in 1918,” Gruber said. “We have IV fluids. We have all these treatments if you do get sick. Think about our masks…we have N-95 medical masks, and you can get these now. They’re not just for health workers anymore because we’re not in a shortage.”
Health officials have called for many of these protocols and, to some degree, were surprised by the pushback they saw from the populace.
“I understand vaccine hesitancy, medicine hesitancy…there’s a little bit of that in all of us, right?” Dr. Ohl said. “And usually, you can get around that and help with that through education. Talking to people. Being there for them. Holding their hand. Can’t tell you how many people’s hand I actually held while they got their shot. But…it’s just this belligerence.”
Some have blamed the way the scientists have adjusted their message over time, but UNC-Greensboro anthropologist Cassie Workman says they should understand the nature of dealing with developing and mutating viruses.
“Science changes, and it changes rapidly, so when messages change, that’s not necessarily a sign that the previous ones were wrong. It’s that we’re building new data,” Workman said.
But she admits that the often one-size-fits-all message coming out of our federal government can be better.
“You have to have a simple message. It has to be understandable by people, but people interpret a message based on their cultural context and their own personal experiences, so one message given to how many? A hundred million Americans are going to be received very differently across the country,” Workman said.
Both Dr. Ohl and Joann Gruber believe that we are likely to see a significant improvement in our COVID-19 situation as the virus – as they all tend to do – begins to burn out over the summer and becomes more like a cold or the flu in the future.
See more in this edition of the Buckley Report.