Pandemic continues as concern continues for preparation for future novel viruses

The Charlottesville Community Engagement newsletter and podcast got its start in the early days of the pandemic when I launched the Charlottesville Quarantine Report. I was not working as a journalist but when faced with a crisis that had been brewing all winter, I began devoting my time to getting out information. 

In the early days of this program, almost every episode had some information about the pandemic in some way. It has now been more than two and a half years since the state of emergency was declared, and it’s much more rare for me to get to a story. 

At the September 21 meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Chair Donna Price announced that she finally got a positive test. 

“I joined 95,566,521 Americans with COVID last week,” Price said. “We’ve had over a million and fifty thousand deaths. There are 30 million Americans who have experienced long COVID.” 

According to the COVID tracker of the Centers for Disease Control, the number of confirmed cases continues to trend downwards. Price said her case was very mild due to her recent boosters as well as the availability of antivirals. She urged people to remain vigilant. 

“And I encourage people to continue to get your vaccination, to use safe practices, because it still is out there and we still are having several hundred Americans die every day,” Price said. “The President may have spoken in one respect that we are beyond the pandemic but the reality medically is that we are not.” 

A snapshot from the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard (Credit: Virginia Department of Health)

That topic came up a couple days later at the weekly COVID-19 briefing put on by the University of Virginia Health. Dr. Costi Sifri is the director of hospital epidemiology at the University of Virginia Hospital. He said things seem like they are getting back to normal, with many people going to restaurants, traveling, going to the theater, and taking part in everyday events. 

“In that manner and fashion, for those individuals, the pandemic has receded and may conceptually be over in their mind but the virus isn’t done with us,” Dr. Sifri said. 

Dr. Sifri said COVID-19 remains one of the top five causes of death across the country and there is always the possibility of new strains. He said there’s no consensus of when to declare the pandemic over, and he doesn’t consider the pandemic over. He added that end of the emergency response is within sight.  

“One of the potential consequences of saying that the finish line has been crossed is that we pack up the bag, go home, and don’t think about what could be coming around the corner and what could be coming down the line,” Dr. Sifri said.  “With the end of the emergency response, I think we may still be at a level of higher levels of circulation of the virus than we would want but we still see that it could still be a significant threat particularly with people who are not vaccinated. Also to people who don’t respond well to vaccines or have multiple medical conditions that put them at high for COVID.”

Dr. Sifri said models project another surge as temperatures drop. He said the public health sector has been taxed severely after the past two and a half years. 

“The pandemic has greatly stretched and stressed public health to a point that it’s very difficult for them to respond continuing on an ongoing basis,” Dr. Sifri said. “It requires an investment not only in capital investment but also investment in the human resources, the people who do these jobs.”  

Dr. Sifri said more study is needed to improve the equitable delivery of health care while moving through the fight against a novel virus. The time is now to reflect and prepare. 

“How can we do this better?” Dr. Sifri said. “We need to be doing better because we are clearly seeing over the last ten years novel emerging pathogens or reemerging pathogens and we should expect that they will continue going forward.”

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the September 28, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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