The COVID-19 Pandemic: What should we worry about at the two-year mark?Mar 21, 2022
Now that we are all two-year pandemic veterans, good times—like we are experiencing now—bring anxiety about when the good times might end. The latest source of anxiety is the BA.2 sublineage of Omicron, which appears to be more transmissible than BA.1. In the United Kingdom, a frequent harbinger of what is to come in the United States, BA.2 has grown rapidly and case counts have increased by 79% over the last 14 days. Reinfections by BA.2 following an initial BA.1 infection have been documented there, but are infrequent. An article in Friday’s Denver Post provides comprehensive coverage of the situation in Colorado. Bottom line: worry a little bit and stay tuned.
The current drop in the pandemic, reaching quite low levels in Colorado, offers an opportunity to prepare for the next wave. Quoting Sunday’s New York Times: "'You use the quiet periods to do the hard work,' said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 'You don’t use the quiet to forget.'" The two-year pandemic anniversary issue of Science expands on what needs to be done. Commentaries emphasize the situations of low- and middle-income countries: "Our greatest failing is inequitable distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, and their technologies." This is a challenge that should be addressed now. And another quote: "We also cannot escape the realization that misinformation and misgovernance during the pandemic killed people as surely as global war." The article by Koelle and others provides a fascinating account of the two years of shifting epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and the parallel changes in approach to its control.
We continue to collaborate with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and its Institute for Science and Policy on the COVID-19 series for the public. Today’s speaker was to have been Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown School of Public Health and a frequent media presence. Over the last two years, I have found him to be a wise analyst and a strong and reasonable communicator. He rates well on my internal score card for the many “talking heads” who appear regularly on broadcast media. That talent seems to have been noted as he has just been appointed as White House COVID-19 coordinator. He replaces Jeffrey Zients, a management consultant and entrepreneur. The shift in expertise is telling, perhaps signaling that public health expertise is now more critical than logistics to control the pandemic and assure that we do not face repeated surges. Previously, logistics were critical in providing vaccination to the nation, contending with supply chain challenges, and rolling out diagnostic tests and therapeutics. Replacements for Dr. Jha for the session include Scott Bookman, Incident Commander for COVID-19 for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Beth Carlton from the school’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and a key member of the modeling team. Links for this episode and others can be found on the Institute's website.
Ukraine remains on my mind as Putin’s war and his assault on humanity continue. The public health crisis worsens as one-fourth of the population is now displaced; food, water and heat are lacking for many. Chris Beyrer from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offered in-depth insights in last week’s seminar: “Health and Humanitarian Consequences of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.” The recording can be found on the school’s website and YouTube channel; listen to it. Also, the March 11 issue of Science addresses the impact of the war on scientists in Ukraine and surrounding countries, and on scientific collaboration with Russia. Russian scientists did not start the war, but their president did, and there is a quandary as to how they should be handled. Spring has started, but the snow is falling.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health