'We are at a really good moment': 3 takeaways from the new COVID-19 chief's 1st week

Despite a rise in infections nationwide, the White House new COVID-19 response coordinator, Ashish Jha, MD, expressed optimism about the current state of the pandemic in the U.S. during his first week on the job. 

"If you think about where we are as a country, we are at a really good moment," said Dr. Jha, who is on leave from his position as dean of Brown University's School of Public Health in  Providence, R.I., told NPR on April 11. "Infection numbers are relatively low. We have fewer people in the hospital right now than at any point in the pandemic. So it is really important to start with, where are we? We're in reasonably good shape." 

Three takeaways from his conversation with NPR

1. A different moment: The goal at this point in the pandemic is not to eliminate all infections. "The goal has got to be to keep infections down and protect people from serious illness," Dr. Jha said. "We're in a very different moment than where we were a couple of years ago, where a COVID-19 infection necessarily meant people were at potentially very high risk of having bad outcomes. That is no longer the case if you are vaccinated and boosted," he told NPR

2. Lean on local restrictions: Dr. Jha suggested the responsibility of deciding whether to reinstate pandemic restrictions will largely fall on the shoulders of local governments moving forward. Following a 50 percent rise in cases in the previous 10 days, Philadelphia on April 11 became the first major city in the country to announce it will reinstate its indoor mask mandate April 18. 

"These are decisions that should always be made on a local level, so I like that feature of what Philadelphia is doing," he said. "[These decisions] should be driven really by the realities on the ground. I can very much imagine in the weeks and months ahead, as you see local cases go up, public health measures go into place. And as infections and hospitalizations fall, public health measures get released. That's a pretty reasonable way to manage the pandemic." 

3. Preparation over prediction: To best navigate the possibility of future surges and another variant, the nation must prepare during calmer periods, Dr. Jha said. "What we need to be doing right now is preparing for those moments by vaccinating people, by making sure that we have plenty of tests and therapies available. That's got to be the strategy — not so much predicting exactly what's going to happen when but preparing for any eventuality that Mother Nature throws at us." A potential barrier to adequate preparation is stalled pandemic funding in Congress that would cover the cost of testing, vaccines and treatments. 


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