There’s so much we don’t know about the COVID-19 pandemic and finding information about the road ahead can feel overwhelming. For a recent Wharton Business Daily episode, host Dan Loney went right to the source and spoke to Dr. Rosamund Lewis, the head of public health services and COVID-19 emergency response for the World Health Organization. She joined the show to provide a prediction for what’s in store in the coming months.
1. In fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization is facing problems both old and new.
“One hundred years ago, there was also an influenza pandemic. Now this is not influenza, we’re clear on that. But 100 years ago, there was no vaccine available either, so we’re kind of in the same situation where we were then with similar challenges of using classic standard public health measures, social distancing, physical distancing, and hand-washing. Those are the only measures we have right now, while the world races to develop a vaccine and treatments that are specific to this particular virus.”
“WHO deals with hundreds of outbreaks around the world every year, whether it be the Zika virus, or Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Every time there’s—what we call—an alert, we get a piece of information usually from countries, but sometimes from the media, or other sources that will say, ‘Oh, sounds like there’s a Yellow fever case somewhere.’ We do an immediate process that goes into risk assessments like, ‘Is this a real case?’ ‘Is it adequately reported?’ ‘Has it been tested?’ Is it confirmed in the lab,’ and so on. We have all those processes and they’re used daily for outbreaks all around the world. Now, none of them have been at this magnitude in 100 years, so that part of it is really new (as we learn) about the disease itself and about how it’s going to affect different people, different age groups in different situations.”
2. When considering reopening their businesses, it’s important for employers to make sure their employees are safe, and ensure that employees respect recommendations.
“Employers should make the resources available to their staff that the staff need, and the staff need to take personal responsibility for respecting certain basic new rules for the time being. Those will include what we heard at the beginning of the outbreak, which was non-contact greetings and agreeing not to shake hands. Making sure for the employers that there are hand washing stations available at all strategic locations, (for example) at the entry to the building and at the cafeteria. Each employee needs to continue to respect those measures and make sure that hand-washing, covering their cough, and all these basic measures which started to sound boring after the first few weeks, are the same ones that are now going to come back.
3. Companies should prepare for these measures to continue for the foreseeable future.
“It will be a new normal. It’s going to be hard to get used to, but (I’d like to add) just a little bit of science here, by way of information. Most countries that are now doing antibody studies are finding that maybe not more than 5 percent of their populations who have an antibody response have been exposed at some time in the last few weeks or months, and have developed an antibody response. What that means is that 95 percent of the population is still susceptible. Again, it’s not to create fear but just to say don’t think that this is over. We are going to have to manage this for a while, months to years, I would say.”
4. Without more robust testing, the WHO predicts more smaller outbreaks.
“Without systematic testing of people with symptoms of any kind, we won’t know where the virus is. It would come back to testing as a primary measure, and that’s where people would feel that we would want to cooperate, because if I have a slight cough, a tickle in my throat, maybe a low grade fever, then I can’t go to work. I need to stay home, but I can also seek out a test if that’s possible and available, and if it’s positive, even if I’m feeling better after three or four days, I still need to stay home a full two weeks. That’s the hard part. That’s what people who are not sure where their next paycheck is coming from are going to find really difficult. What we’re going to see is we’re going to see outbreaks here and there, due to either a social gathering, or due to the difficulty of trying to stay under isolation if you’ve tested positive, or exposed. Those are going to be the (most) difficult measures.”
— Emily O’Donnell
Posted: May 18, 2020