The COVID-19 epidemic: Looking to next stepsApr 21, 2020
The work of the COVID-19 modeling team led by the Colorado School of Public Health provided a foundation for the Governor’s announcement concerning relaxation of social distancing. In the most recent modeling report the team provides an update on how well the combination of the March 17 and March 26 measures worked; the answer is quite well, achieving sufficient social distancing to “bend the curve.” But, the current level of social distancing cannot be sustained indefinitely and the latest report explores scenarios for removal of some restrictions as we reach April 26 when the March 26 stay-at-home order expires. The model has been augmented to consider epidemiological measures (case identification and isolation of contagious individuals) and the use of masks. The model results show that the way forward needs to involve all that we can do.
Changing the topic, the pandemic has led to rumors and conspiracy theories. More than a century ago, one rumor about the 1918 influenza epidemic attributed it to Germany, perhaps a reasonable suspicion as World War I was in progress. For the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the circulating stories involves 5G as somehow contributing; how could that happen? Yet, this rumor has such sufficient “legs” that I talked with multiple reporters to dispel it, citing a complete lack of plausibility for any connection of this infection with radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation from 5G communications. And, there is the Bill Gates rumor as well. Setting aside the ludicrous nature of both conspiracy theories, how did they originate and propagate and then distract? There are many other instances of conspiracy theories arising around public health problems.
Even more disturbing are the attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci, possibly the most respected and trusted national voice at the time of this and previous pandemics. One lesson: stepping forward on complex issues where decisions matter inevitably invites criticism and today, it involves viral personal attacks. How unfortunate.
I can’t resist stating the obvious. A pandemic that has caused more than 40,000 deaths in the United States should transcend politics, but it has not. Another lesson here: a pandemic, politics, and an election are a toxic combination for public health. Historian Jon Meacham advanced the appropriate label—a “partisan pandemic.”
We have completed another week of the “new normal.” All are asking when we can replace the current “new normal” with the next version. That transition rests with the course of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how successfully we manage the pandemic. We will be starting the “new normal 2.0” shortly.
Until next week,
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health