The COVID-19 Pandemic: A bad week for the pandemic and for the planetSep 7, 2021
The Labor Day weekend signals a shift from summer and vacation to the fall and the resumption of school and work. As always, my thoughts about the change are mixed. The pace of academia accelerates with the energy of new students, even as the unmet expectations of summer fade. Among those missed expectations for me is catching up on piles of unread journals that stretch back to January 2020. Read now, some of the news stories describe early landmarks—the emergence of a new virus in Wuhan—while others track the rapid evolution of research and the persistence of the pandemic.
This is a different fall. Students are returning to in-person classes even as the COVID-19 pandemic refuses to vanish. Contrary to hope and expectation, COVID-19 is not in retreat, but resurgent, more than tripling the inpatient census of Coloradans with COVID-19 since July 1. On September 5, 840 Coloradans were hospitalized with COVID-19, coming close to the peak of 888 during the first wave in March and April of 2020.
I have commented repeatedly on the linked problems of misinformation and of vaccine hesitancy and refusal that largely underlie the insufficient rate of vaccination. They persist. A chilling editorial in the New York Times describes the rise of anti-vaccine groups and associations with Republican legislators and other operatives. Seemingly, public health cannot counter the misinformation fast and convincingly enough. In the New England Journal of Medicine, Scales, Gorman, and Jamieson describe an epidemiologically-based approach to the “COVID-19 infoepidemic.” They call for infoepidemic-surveillance, accurate diagnosis, and rapid response. Their worked through example around masks is informative. A new approach for countering misinformation is needed—now.
And it’s been another bad week for the planet with extreme weather continuing. Tropical storm Ida is the latest example, building quickly to a Category 4 hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf and reaching the Northeast with unprecedented rainfall and flooding. Lives have been lost and the economic costs will be high. The personal stories carried by the media document many tragedies. In California, the Caldor fire has been burning for nearly a month, destroying 220,000 acres. These extreme events have long been predicted by climate modelers and those predictions have become more certain. The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on August 9, continues to document man’s impact on the climate. The predictions reaffirm that more extreme events will occur. In Colorado, we can expect hotter days and more heat waves, drought, and fires.
According to The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: “Climate change is the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century, but it is also the greatest opportunity to redefine the social and environmental determinants of health.” Reflecting this urgency, an editorial—“Call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect health”—was published on September 6 by 220 health and medicine journals. It includes a call to action by health professionals. The health consequences of climate change are a critical topic for schools of public health, relating to our educational, research, and advocacy roles. Consequently, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) has assembled a task force to address how its schools and programs can make a difference. Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, and I are co-chairs. We plan to rapidly address our task. I know that the topic of climate change and public health is of great interest to the Colorado School of Public Health. The ASPPH taskforce should provide a useful framework for considering what we will do in this area.
Masks are back in fashion. Wear yours.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health