From Public to Personal: Pandemic Lessons Learned

December 23, 2020 – What are the most critical lessons from the coronavirus crisis?

WebMD asked health experts on the frontlines of the national COVID-19 response effort to weigh in on this issue and reflect on how the crisis has affected them personally.

Their responses provide insight into the impact of the pandemic. Almost all of them worked long hours. Some have lost loved ones. Others have taken decisive steps.

Here is what they had to say.

Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health

Biggest lesson: “It’s taught us that we can bring scientists from all sectors together in new, creative collaborative arrangements and get things done much faster than people might have thought before it happened.”

Personal impacts: “I’ve been working probably 90 to 100 hours a week since March trying to lead all the things the NIH can bring to the table, in diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. And I did most of this from my rather cramped home office about 4 miles from the NIH in order to try out the telecommuting security model.

“Yeah, I became a hermit, and not by choice!” And that included all kinds of social occasions that I would normally enjoy, missing out on family gatherings that would have been held for summer vacation, or Thanksgiving, or very soon for Christmas. So, yeah, it transformed my life experience.

“But I’m not complaining. It is also a great opportunity to be able to put all the power of science at the service of a crisis that we have not really seen for 100 years. So I’m happy to be able to be part of it. “

Leana Wen, MD, physician in emergency medicine and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health

Biggest lesson: “The pandemic has exposed many underlying issues that we have long known to exist, particularly health disparities and continued disinvestment in our public health systems. Urgent action must be taken to address these challenges, as well as a continued commitment to address them over the long term so that lessons learned are not forgotten. “

Personal impacts: “All of my work has focused on the coronavirus. It is the public health catastrophe of our generation. I also gave birth during the pandemic. My daughter is now 8 months old. She has yet to meet her grandparents, but we hope it will happen in 2021! “

William Schaffner, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Biggest lesson: “I think this has taught us that in response to a pandemic, you need a science-based and public health response that needs to be communicated very clearly at the national level. And we haven’t had that from the start.

Personal impacts: “It took over my professional life and obviously affected me personally. My wife and I are very, very careful. We took shelter at home and did not have our usual Thanksgiving meal with the whole family. And we anticipate an extremely modest Christmas. My wife, and this is an amazing statement, told me that since the family doesn’t meet at our house, we might not even have a tree.

Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, epidemiologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia

Biggest lesson: “Perhaps most important to me is that public health is about preparation. By the time we reacted, it was often already too late. And while many of our other biggest health issues are very different from COVID-19 – diabetes, heart disease, etc. – the same principle is true.

Personal impacts: “Two of my distant cousins ​​died in New York and Mexico earlier this year from COVID-19. Closer to home, the foreclosure in Australia cost my wife much of her casual job and a close family member lost their job altogether. I have also spent most of my free time since March studying COVID-19 and its impact, which has been exhausting.

Juanita Mora, MD, allergist and national spokesperson on minority health issues for the American Lung Association

Biggest lesson: “2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the health disparities that were already underlying in communities of color in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed communities of color as the “unsung heroes of this pandemic” and also as the populations hardest hit by the burden of disease. “

Personal impacts: “This pandemic has enabled me as a physician, a first generation Mexican American from a modest household and a volunteer national spokesperson for the American Lung Association, to advocate and defend the Latin American community. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed me to be a voice of science and knowledge to help this community navigate this pandemic through local and national media.

Reed Tuckson, MD, former public health commissioner of Washington, DC, and co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID

Biggest lesson: “I think we have learned a very tragic lesson … about the relationship between individuals

rights and freedoms in relation to a person’s ability to injure or kill another person as a result of reckless action and misconduct. It is no longer a given that in America we are all together. We no longer assume that individuals will care more about the well-being of others than their own … This is an extremely painful lesson to learn.

Personal impacts: “It reminded me in a very dramatic way of the oath I took when I became a doctor. … I have completely turned my life into a total obsession with working in any way that I personally can, using my skills and expertise as a doctor to try and fight this pandemic. “

Shelly Miller, PhD, environmental engineer at the University of Colorado-Boulder and expert in airborne disease transmission

Biggest lesson: “A big lesson from 2020 is that indoor air quality matters and we should pay more attention to what pollutes our common indoor air to improve our health and well-being.”

Personal impacts: “As one of the few experts in engineering control of indoor airborne infectious disease transmission, I felt a personal responsibility to understand how transmission occurs and how can we reduce exposure to the virus. using engineering principles and control strategies, and as a result, I have devoted most of my time to pandemic related research and community service through science communication.

Kelly Goebel, DNP, acute care nurse practitioner in the intensive care unit, and director of the nursing program at Florida Gulf Coast University

Biggest lesson: “We need to be better prepared for the future. We have learned to overcome the social isolation that our patients and their families experience, to find new ways to communicate through the use of iPad, FaceTime, etc. The use of telemedicine has greatly improved our ability to maintain a provider relationship with our patients.

“We have learned to embrace ever-changing environments and become adaptable in response to an ever-changing body of evidence.

“Finally, I believe we have connected differently since the pandemic; maybe our priorities have changed and we appreciate what we didn’t have before COVID. ”

Personal impacts: “The degree of isolation that we have experienced as a society has been difficult to live with. It was a culture shock; however, things like wearing a mask and social distancing are for the greater good. I think as a nurse practitioner working with COVID patients in the intensive care unit, it has been difficult to hear that people in the community do not support the expert recommendations.

Linsey Marr, PhD, aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, specializing in airborne virus transmission

Biggest lesson: “COVID-19 has clarified our understanding of aerosol transmission of viruses. Due to the importance of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID-19, it has become clear that breathing and speaking, and not just coughing, generates aerosols and that these can transmit the virus. We realized that aerosols are important at close range in close contact situations, not just at long range. There were a few of us who knew this before, but COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the penetration of this knowledge into the broader scientific and medical communities.

Personal impacts: “Before the pandemic, I was one of the few scientists to have studied viruses in the air, a subject that fell through the cracks because it didn’t fit perfectly with medicine, virology, aerosol science or engineering. It was an abrupt change as my research shifted from obscurity to the limelight. I have given over 300 interviews since March. As my workload increased, I found it difficult to deal with school-aged children at home at all hours of the day.

Arthur H. Brand, PhD, Registered Psychologist, Brand & Kelton-Brand, Boca Raton, FL

Biggest lesson: “I think it taught us how quickly we are able to adapt to change. Within months of the pandemic, many people adjusted to live their lives differently – how they worked, how they were educated, how they interacted with others, how they spent their time and how they lived their lives.

Personal impacts: “The world – the people, places, activities – with which I interact has become much smaller, but I have been much more grateful and appreciative of things and have become more charitable.

Tom Frieden, MD, former director of CDC and president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives

Biggest lesson: “How unprepared we are for a global pandemic at the local, federal and global levels. And how vitally important clear, timely and transparent communication is in the fight against a pandemic. “

Personal impacts: “I work from home and do a lot of my work remotely, and I can’t travel to work to work with our global programs and work in our office with our staff!”

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