COVID-19 Conversations A Webinar SeriesSteps taken to flatten the infection curve in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic were successful, and returning to the lessons we’ve already learned will be crucial to seeing the other side of the pandemic.

That was the takeaway from the twelfth installment of the COVID-19 Conversations webinar series hosted by APHA and the National Academy of Medicine. In “Managing Ongoing Surges — Lessons from the Front Lines,” experts discussed what the field has learned so far that can be applied now. 

When COVID-19 first made its appearance in early March, fighting against it required data-driven actions, speedy decisionmaking, clear communication, multidisciplinary teams, employee engagement and public buy-in.

As cases continued to rise, experts were forced to make quick and daunting decisions with limited information. Some of these decisions included mandating masks in hospitals and dealing with “what would happen if we needed to, in fact, start rationing care because of lack of ventilators, remdesivir or otherwise,” said Jonathan Lewin, MD, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University.

An important role in hospitals has been building systems that acknowledge and reward employees, said Greg Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals. That has included on-site testing, childcare grants and providing shelters for those who were uncomfortable going home. These benefits during the crisis played a tremendous role in boosting the morale of health care workers, Adams said.

New York, one of the hardest hit states in the earliest months of the pandemic, relied on science and “partnership with every New Yorker” to flatten the curve, said Howard Zucker, MD, JD, New York state commissioner of health. Political leaders and community partners on the state and local level led the way with science-driven policies. These included “limiting the nonessential gatherings, closing schools statewide, shutting down in-office work for nonessential employees,” Zucker said. 

Webinar panelists emphasized that health care and public health workers need to look to community partners for effective action. “If we're going to get through the next year or two, we've got to own the need for people to be in our communities that are educating, that are doing the contact tracing, helping people who may not understand, to isolate, to quarantine,” Adams said.  

One of the greatest concerns has been the difficulty in obtaining public buy-in, especially among some vulnerable populations, to follow public health recommendations. Successful efforts to increase that buy-in have included collaborating with celebrities, athletes and health care workers from local communities. 

The webinar panel also stressed the importance of using data in any pandemic-related decisionmaking process. As case counts continue to rise, innovative and coordinated strategies tailored to communities will be necessary for the U.S. to come out on the other side of the pandemic.

Don’t miss the next webinar in the COVID-19 Conversations series on Aug. 12, “Returning to K-12 Education: Using Science to Keep Children, Teacher and Staff Safe.” 

Written by Aakansha Bagepally and Latoya Chimilio.