COVID-19: What to expect in the next six months

According to various experts, the going will not be easy. However, managing expectations is better than managing uncertainty. Therefore, it’s important that businesses secure inventory of their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements and ensure that they are future-proof from any and every pandemic. Philadelphia experts contend that the pandemic will still be with us, six months from now. While the wait for the vaccine keeps getting longer, what is required right now are the removal of various barriers for testing. Ala Stanford, pediatric surgeon and founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, says that anybody should be able to walk into a hospital and get a COVID test without insurance or prior appointment. She is dismayed that this scenario is not really taking shape in reality, for now. 


Vaccine Will Be a Reality Soon

A therapeutic medicine could be ready in six months, according to Sara Cherry, Penn professor of pathology, laboratory medicine, and microbiology. However, she acknowledges that the going so far has been a lot of trial and error, like any new discovery. But the good news is that genetically-engineered mouse models with human versions of ACE2 are now available for widespread scientific research, which could lead to the discovery of a vaccine.


Hospitals Could Be Overwhelmed Again

With the flu season on the horizon, and the return of regular patients to the hospitals who had postponed non-COVID-19 treatments, the healthcare system will be overwhelmed again, says Penn ICU physician Meghan Lane-Fall. Earlier, tents were set up outside for testing people. However, it would be quite difficult in the biting winter season. Lane-Fall is not expecting an immediate remedy to this healthcare crisis as effective drugs to deal with COVID-19 are still elusive. 


Long-term Impacts On Nursing Fraternity

The psychological scars inflicted by the Coronavirus on the nursing fraternity will linger for years, says Maureen May, a nurse at Temple University Hospital and the president of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. The lack of PPE led to several nurses retiring before time due to the disconnect between the management and the staff. Eventually, the supply chain for PPE improved and the faulty Chinese kits were replaced with better ones. May is also rooting for a health insurance policy that would protect frontline workers in the sector who get sick at work. 


Masks Are Better Than a Vaccine

Masks are the best forms of protection. Charles Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University, says, “Masks do work. We should have a masking mandate. It’s a darn shame it’s become so politicized.” His angst is because the initial messaging by the authorities was that only the healthcare workers need to wear masks. Later, the advice was changed to universal usage, “so you don’t infect the others around you”. More recently, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that masks are better than a vaccine: “This face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” Haas says that the mixed messaging about masking yourself led to the present crisis where the actual message should have been: wear a mask to protect yourself. 


Wear PPE & Maintain Social Distancing Even After Vaccine

Even if a vaccine is discovered, its availability and effectiveness will be initially limited. Therefore, ensuring that even those who have vaccinated wear a mask and practice social distancing, particularly indoors, is most crucial to contain the spread. Haas emphasises this point with a perfect analogy of the times: “We didn’t stop wearing seat belts when we got airbags.”


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Be Ready For Any Possible Developments

Wharton’s Eric K. Clemons, a professor of operations, information and decisions, worries about the post-vaccine scenario. His particular concern is about those individuals who are least likely to be infected by the virus. Will they continue to work as usual and transmit the virus to those who are vulnerable? “Does transmission therefore continue, overwhelming hospital beds, hospital staff and critical resources like ventilators?” asks Clemons in his scenario analysis. He says that a scenario should be predicted over a 5-25 year timeline to get the nations to prepare for any eventuality. This approach leads to four kinds of situations, beginning from the most benign to the catastrophic. If the mildest scenario indeed comes true, the low lethality and poor mutation rate could easily be overcome by a vaccine. However, it would be most catastrophic if the virus mutates and becomes more deadly, rendering every vaccine useless. This would result in more deaths, particularly among the vulnerable population. Clemons wants the authorities to not only examine all the different possibilities of COVID-19, but also be better prepared for every eventuality, as the strategy will be dramatically different for each scenario. The ultimate point of Clemons is that the transition will be painful, and we need to deal with it with proper government policies and societal responses. “The virus was no one’s fault,” he says. “But our responses, and the economic, political, and personal costs are at least partly within our control.”


Herd Immunity Research

The latest McKinsey’s research concludes that herd immunity is most likely possible in the United States and most other developed nations in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, while normalcy will be restored quite possibly in the first or second quarter of 2021. However, the above-mentioned scenarios can only come true if the vaccines are effective and encompass the entire affected population. The report also suggests that it is time for the healthcare industry to innovate exponentially to make up for lost time through productivity gains. The report also suggests that virtual blood donation campaigns should be conducted with far greater frequency to lessen the impact of future pandemics. 


Find, Isolate, Test & Care

While Moderna and Pfizer have launched massive clinical trials to launch vaccines by the end of 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is still sounding a cautionary note. “Although our world has changed, the fundamental pillars of the response have not: political leadership and informing, engaging and listening to communities,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “And nor have the basic measures needed to suppress transmission and save lives: find, isolate, test and care for cases – and trace and quarantine their contacts. Keep your distance from others. Clean your hands, avoid crowded and enclosed areas and wear a mask where recommended.”


PPE is a Must 

While much more can be said about how PPE can be our first line of protection, the best message came from Ghebreyesus when he said, “The COVID-19 pandemic is illustrating that health is not a reward for development, it’s the foundation of social, economic and political stability. We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference. The future is in our hands.”


And Finally…

Mask up, and continue to practice social distancing even after a vaccine is discovered. It will take time to determine the efficacy of the vaccine. Prevention is indeed better than a cure. 

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