COVID-19: Pandemic good news continues for Colorado, but the tragedy of war worsensMar 14, 2022
The good news first – Colorado’s epidemic curve continues to plunge with the number hospitalized dropping to 211 on Friday, far below the Omicron peak of 1,676. The state's 7-day test positivity rate is at 3.1%, about one-tenth of the January peak. Ocular epidemiology (i.e., my personal observations), suggests that Coloradans’ behavior is turning back to 2019, although some still wear masks in public places. Why not continue with this no-regrets protection for now? Continuing to use a respiratory protective device and hand hygiene also provides protection against the many other respiratory viruses.
Two-year pandemic landmarks continue. As I wrote this commentary on Sunday, March 13, I recalled that Friday, March 13, 2020, was the last routine day on the campus before “stay at home” began for the school. The New York Times is publishing commentaries at the two-year mark, and here are two worth reading:
James Hamblin poses the provocative question: “Can Public Health Be Saved?” In Hamblin’s opinion, the loss of trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), initiated during the prior administration, continues during the Biden administration. Politics and poor communications are cited etiological factors. Hamblin’s solution is to assure a separation between politics and health and to give the CDC autonomy in its communications. And, of course, more funding. My own concerns about the CDC, voiced in my weekly commentaries, overlap with Hamblin’s. We would agree that the CDC should look back for lessons learned and take corrective steps to be ready to deal with the inevitable, next phase of the pandemic.
The other New York Times commentary, “How Millions of Lives Might Have Been Saved From COVID-19," is written by Zeynep Tufekci, the University of North Carolina social scientist. She offers eight counterfactuals, beginning with the initial failure of China to disclose the outbreak. Each captures a possible wrong turn and she speculates as to what might have happened with the right turn. She is correct that alternatives at critical points in the pandemic could have led to a more favorable course. One quote from her concluding section: “But the cracks revealed in our governments and public health institutions by two years of inertia, mistakes, and resistance to evidence make it crucial that a broad, tough dissection of what happened take place if we are to choose the correct course in future challenges.” I concur. The dissection is needed and it must be complete and timely if action is to follow. An empowered prosector should conduct the dissection for an attentive audience who will learn from it.
I offered my retrospective on what schools of public health have contributed to pandemic control in a talk on Friday, “Academics and the Pandemic: Making a Difference or Not?”, at my former department (renamed from the Department of Preventive Medicine to the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences) at the University of Southern California. My informal survey of what other schools have accomplished and our experience left me impressed – I think that we have made a difference. Many activities are similar to those of the Colorado School of Public Health: student engagement with contact tracing; work to address vaccine hesitancy; an array of research, modeling, and more. Schools responded quickly and probably with little dedicated funding for these activities, at least initially.
With sadness, I acknowledge the death of a giant of global health—Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners in Health. A physican and medical anthropologist, Farmer viewed health through the lens of inequity and social justice. He wrote prolifically on this theme. The activities of Partners in Health have had particular impact in Haiti and Rwanda as well as many other countries. When I first started teaching undergraduate public health in 2008, I found that many of the students were there because they had read Tracy Kidder’s homage to Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. He will have lasting impact.
The tragedy of the war in Ukraine continues. This Wednesday, March 16, at noon, Chris Beyrer MD, MPH, will lead a seminar titled, “Health and Humanitarian Consequences of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.” Chris is the inaugural Desmond M. Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He has worked throughout the world on HIV/AIDS and human rights and has extensive experience in Eastern Europe. He was also the 2021 Convocation speaker. Details linked above.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health