Preparing For the Next Viral Wave
The World Health Organization designated COVID-19 as a pandemic more than two years ago, and government regulations issued in response to this disease have created multiple problems. Based on recent events, many U.S. citizens seem ready to put all of these problems behind them. Negative responses to government dictums have ranged from truck convoys to outbursts of anger on public transportation. Part of this frustration has been fueled by perceptions the resulting regulations were onerous and arbitrary — and have not proven particularly effective. This was exacerbated when multiple government officials were seen without masks in places where rules dictated the use of masking. Not long ago, a Florida judge declared the COVID-19 mask mandate for public transportation unlawful. As a result, government mandates on mask restrictions on these carriers have been dropped.
A recent article in the The Economist looked at how the United States has responded to the pandemic, and detailed how we need to prepare for the next viral wave. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a million people have died from COVID-19 in this country. If this is accurate, America has the highest death rate among First World countries — a rate that nearly doubles the average number of deaths in countries in the same category. The article points out that America struggled to vaccinate its citizens, and in this regard fell far behind Canada, Britain and the European Union.
The United States also lagged in detecting the virus and ranked 36th in the world in terms of sequencing SARS-CoV-2. This hindered early recognition and response to new variants. Part of this had to do with the government’s slow response to developing and distributing test kits. Citizens in Britain had access to free rapid test kits more than a year before they were available in this country.
PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS AGREE THAT THOUGH THE CURRENT PANDEMIC IS WANING, ANOTHER IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
The majority of public health officials agree that though the current pandemic is waning, another is just around the corner. They strongly suggest we prepare now so we don’t get caught short again when the next virus appears.
To this end, the White House released a National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in March. The plan has multiple parts: it seeks to prevent, detect and treat emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, prevent (where possible) economic and educational lockdowns, and continue to encourage vaccination. This includes plans for more efficient data collection and virus sequencing. To be effective, this plan must be funded by the government and acted upon by local, state and federal authorities. Megan L. Ranney, MD, MPH, academic dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, opined, “It’s not a typical American thing to say that we’re going to commit resources ahead of time. I hope we have learned our lesson.”
It is unfortunate, but true, that many of the policies of our federal, state and local governments exacerbated the suffering of our citizens. One would hope that when the next pandemic arrives, we are better prepared.
Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
From Decisions in Dentistry. June 2022;8(6)6.