What’s Next With COVID?

You don’t really expect me to answer that question, do you? For over two years, COVID-19 has kept scientists, virologists, and communicable disease and public health experts guessing. Although they’ve learned a great deal about the virus causing this pandemic, you’ll be unlikely to find anyone willing to make predictions about the next variant, how long until the pandemic is over, or any of a multitude of other questions the world would like answered.

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH, PhD

There are a number of health professionals I’ve come to trust, however, as I try to navigate these challenging times. One of them is  Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH PhD, who describes herself as “an epidemiologist, biostatistician, professor, researcher, wife, and mom of two little girls.” During the day Dr. Jetelina operates a research lab and teaches graduate-level courses in the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. At night, she writes “Your Local Epidemiologist (YLE),” a newsletter she created in March 2020 when her Dean asked her to update students, faculty, and staff on the developments of the pandemic. Now it has a readership of 350,000 people in 166 countries. According to her website, the purpose for her writing is: “to translate the ever-evolving public health science so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions.”   She goes on to say, “My posts are 100% data-driven and backed by the most recent scientific evidence. Some of these are my own analyses, some of these are based on other brilliant scientists’ peer-reviewed studies, and some are science-driven resources.”

I appreciate how valuable and important Dr. Jetelina’s work is. In my career as a public health nurse, I read a lot of complex research reports and textbooks and then re-wrote much of that information to help the public understand what it meant for their daily lives. That’s what Dr. Jetelina’s been doing for nearly two years as we’ve wandered the maze of this new virus.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’m struggling with how to convince others of the importance of our actions. And I know that even those of us who remain committed to doing all we can to decrease the spread of COVID are growing weary. Many, like me, hope every day for evidence that the Omicron variant’s days are numbered and that soon we’ll be able to safely loosen some restrictions. In the latest issue of “Your Local Epidemiologist,” Dr. Jetelina tackled the question many of us are daring to consider—What Now?—and offered thoughts about how pandemics end.

I encourage you to click on the link above to read the entire newsletter. Here’s some of what you’ll find, in Dr. Jetelina’s words.

  • Is this the end? In order to know how this will end, we need to look at how other pandemics ended. First, recognize the last part of that sentence…pandemics end. Every epi curve comes down. This pandemic will end, too. Hold that fact close to you.
  • What’s next? Right now, SARS-CoV-2 is mutating every two weeks. This virus will continue to jump from person-to-person and it will mutate. We may have another wave, but we may not.
  • There has to be a global response. Dr. Jetelina spells out clearly what actions are needed to end the pandemic:  increase vaccine rates, continue to wear masks, improve filtration systems, scale up testing, increase the supply of drugs to treat COVID, strengthen reporting systems, and communicate.

As we’ve seen, none of these actions are fast or easy when confronted with a disease as widespread as COVID-19. But, scientists, doctors (and other health care providers), and policy makers know how to do this work.  Fortunately, there are people like Dr. Jetelina helping us understand the part we all play. 

Today, I’m heartened by her response to my question of what’s next:

“There will be an end, it’s just not how you pictured it. The journey to reach stasis is dependent on the virus, our population-level policies, and our individual-level decisions. It will depend on how we prepare and if we do it wisely. Together this will determine how many more people die, how many people get long COVID, how long the journey takes, how many mutations we have, how many vaccine doses we need, and, importantly how we keep sane and united.”

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