KIMT NEWS 3 - The U.S. has been navigating the Coronavirus pandemic for about three months now. You may feel like we've been through a lot already, but we still have a long ways to go, according to one of the top epidemiologists in the country.
"Things are going to get worse, not better," says Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "I worry that people are taking this situation now as if we're just about over the hump, we're just about done, we'll get over this curb, we'll get to summer, everything will quiet down. We hear that from national leaders that that's what going to happen, but we're just in the second inning of a nine inning game."
A vaccine or achieving herd immunity could restore some normalcy, but neither are likely to be reached any time soon. About 5-15% of Americans have been infected with Coronavirus. 60-70% infection is needed to obtain herd immunity.
"If I could create a magic wand, my first swoop across the sky would be a miracle vaccine. My second swoop across the sky would be someone like Franklin Delano Roosevelt holding fireside chats for all of us, helping us understand where we're at, the challenges we have, and where we're going, and how we're going to get there," says Osterholm.
Whenever we receive a vaccine or herd immunity, Dr. Osterholm stresses our post-pandemic lives will not be the same. "We will never go back to what was once normal. We will have a new normal. What we're not sure yet of at this point is what that means, meaning that how we get through the next 12 to 18 months or more of this virus transmitting in our communities with the hope of a vaccine somewhere having an impact on that, is yet to be determined. We don't know."
Dr. Osterholm acknowleges the strain put on the country financially and emotionally by the pandemic. "We must hang together on this. We will get through it. I understand this has been an incredible hardship on families who have suffered loss of loved ones, who have had the pain of watching loved ones in intensive care units that they could not be with. I also understand the pain of the economic implications. I have a dear friend who is about to lose his business."
He says there is strong data showing staying at home is working to flatten the curve, but there's no way to know for sure yet how states reopening businesses and public spaces will impact thes pread. There's a fine balance of protecting our health and protecting the economy. "What we're trying to do is weave a middle ground. How do we, as I say, thread the rope through the needle," he explains. "We have to come together and work on both of these issues. it's not one or the other and I worry that we're starting to place it in that kind of context, as one or the other and that's not the case."
As we walk the fine line of keeping the economy afloat while also preventing deaths, Osterholm stresses the critical need to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system. "We can't just let this virus go willy-nilly in our communities or we will bring down our healthcare systems. We will see not just that this is the number one cause of death, but that we will accentuate many other causes of death because people couldn't get healthcare. They couldn't be treated for their heart attack, they couldn't be treated for their stroke because the healthcare systems were so severely handicapped by all these cases," he says.
Despite not beating around the bush at the fact the U.S. has a long way to go until we are on the other side of this, Dr. Osterholm maintains his position that we will get through this.
"Unfortunately, we keep getting diverted by what I consider political sideshows which are unfortunate and not unexpected but nevertheless, they dominate far too much of our time," Dr. Osterholm tells KIMT. "We need to have really intense community discussions about how do we respond to this in the most meaningful way to reduce illnesses, to cause the least disruption to society, and to get us through to the end of this thing. We will get through, but how do we get through?" The "how" behind the United State's perseverance through the COVID-19 pandemic is what will make the difference. "What will define us as a human race will be less about dealing with the virus, but how we deal with each other."