IDWeek 2020: Dr. Frieden, WHO’s Dr. Ryan wrap up “Chasing the Sun” with a look at COVID-19 as a long term public health threat

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Science Speaks is attending the virtual IDWeek 2020, which started Wednesday with Chasing the Sun, 24 hours of COVID-19

Get to know this new coronavirus well.

“”We’re not halfway through it,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said, in the concluding session of “Chasing the Sun,” a 24-hour global view of the pandemic that opened IDWeek 2020’s virtual gathering of infectious diseases specialists worldwide. Calling the novel coronavirus first reported in December 2019 “a long-term threat to public health,” he added, “the risk of explosive spread will not end with a vaccine.”

Understand it.

“We know enough about this virus,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, Emergencies Director of the World Health Organization, who joined Dr. Frieden in the session. “It can only survive a very short time outside the human body. This virus moves from person to person. We can argue about how easily and exactly what circumstances are most efficient, and we know that there are many circumstances and situations and modes of transmission, but we know how to break those. We know how to break the chains of transmission.”

With current and anticipated surges in spread in Europe, where measures against the pandemic brought incidence dramatically down and in the U.S. where ongoing spread has yet to be controlled, both leaders spoke today of approaches that are comprehensive, but not complicated.

“We’ve found that places around the country and around the world that have been guided by, and that fully support public health, have less disease, less death, and less economic devastation.”  Dr. Frieden said.

That means “boxing it in” — containing the spread of disease by testing, isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine, he said. It means the “three W’s: Wear a mask, Watch distances, Wash hands,” he said. It means recognizing and fixing the inequities and disparate opportunities that have allowed the virus to hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

It also means fixing broken systems now, Dr. Ryan said, including those that allowed the pandemic to catch health systems off guard, that denied systems the flexibility to adapt quickly, that puts barriers — including payments — between people and services,

While the pandemic has laid bare glaring deficiencies in preparedness worldwide, he said, “It’s not the next game we need to plan, we need to collectively recommit to winning this game.”

And it means not waiting, Dr. Frieden said. “We need to move beyond the concept that one thing is going to make this go away. No one thing is going to make this go away.”

Neither public health leader thinks now of a time when the virus will not be endemic, or be eradicated.

“We’re not going back to normal,” Dr. Frieden said. “The world will be ‘BC’ and ‘DC’ — Before COVID, and After COVID.”

It will be, he said, “not a new normal, but a better normal.”

It could be, he said, “a year from now, when there’s a much deeper, broader understanding that we are all connected.”

It will be a time, Dr. Ryan said, “when we control the virus, it doesn’t control us.”

The concluding session of “Chasing the Sun” is on facebook’s IDWeek page.

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