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Opinion: How can you prepare for the following Covid-19 variant

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Colorado now has Omicron gone, but there is still time for normalcy. This allows us to learn from previous waves and prepare for the next wave.

Stephen Berman, M.D.

As the Omicron surge reaches its peak, Colorado’s number of people still susceptible to the virus decreases rapidly. Our communities are returning to normal.

A new Omicron subvariant, which appears to overcome the preexisting immunity to Omicron partially, is expected to increase Colorado’s infection rate in the next few weeks. These infections are unlikely to cause hospitalizations or deaths.

According to Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (Seattle), the Omicron wave will infect approximately 50% of the world’s population before March ends. Murray believes that SARS CoV-2 could become an endemic disease and have an impact similar to influenza in a lousy season.

As we move into the Omicron recovery phase of Colorado, it’s time for a thorough analytical review. This is called a “hot washer” and identifies what we did right, wrong and what needs to be done to prepare for new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

The Omicron wave saw the United States suffer the most cumulative deaths of wealthy countries. Covid-19 is not only dangerous for our mental and physical health but also threatens our economy and our livelihoods.

The pandemic has revealed deep divisions in terms of health equity and access to vaccines, medication, and medical care. Other deep divisions in society are also exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic. These include beliefs and values related to individual freedoms versus community responsibility and respect for evidence and scientific thinking.

Due to Congress’s reluctance to authorize additional Covid-19 funding, there will be many areas that this analysis will likely highlight as crucial for strengthening our preparedness and capacity to respond to and cope with the unexpected.

First, improve our surveillance systems to detect new SARS CoV-2 variants. Monitoring methods must be updated from passive to active modes that target vulnerable and high-risk groups in real-time. To quickly identify the variants of concern, we need to use genetic sequencing for a reasonable number of SARS CoV-2 infection cases.

Active multidimensional surveillance systems should include regular PCR testing, wastewater monitoring, and disease monitoring at congregant educational or work locations, such as schools, colleges, universities, high-risk jobs like police officers and first responders, and work locations such as meatpacking plants.

Both the State and Colorado Department of Public Health has done outstanding work in this field while acknowledging the limitations of our county-based public healthcare system. To access federal funds and mobilize financial and logistic resources of the state, local private foundations, private diagnostic laboratories, and our research universities, a community-wide consortium is needed.

The second is to strengthen our public-health capability to test quickly and conduct contact tracing as soon as more dangerous SARS CoV-2 variants become available and before widespread community transmission. Again, this will require a collaborative approach that goes beyond what the health department can do.

We will also need adequate monitoring and quality control measures at the county level to ensure quality testing.

The third step is to establish a plan that includes all critical players in the financing, acquiring, and distributing of supplies, vaccines, and medication. Our complex healthcare delivery system includes hospitals, clinics, private physicians’ offices, urgent-care centers, and state and county health departments. These entities must be coordinated and, where possible, integrated into one seamless system that can respond quickly and fairly.

Fourth, create a working group that includes key government and community officials to monitor and assist the federal-state response and ensure it is fair in terms of race, income, vulnerability, and ethnicity. Many Coloradoans, particularly the elderly, could not get monoclonal antibody therapy or were denied vaccinations.

It is essential to engage the community to create communication methods and messaging that reach community that is skeptical of our traditional healthcare system or our government. It is crucial to have a strategy for communicating with immigrants and families who are not English speakers to decrease community transmission.

It is now that we need to improve our preparedness. Benjamin Franklin once stated, “Failing to plan means planning to fail.”

Stephen Berman is a professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado and the Center for Global Health director in the Colorado School of Public Health.

Nargis Abbasi

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