COVID-19 does not present our first pandemic, nor will it be our last. What should we take note of?
As my deadline for this issue’s column approached, I had no doubt what its topic would be. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) bumped antimicrobial resistance as the focus of my attention over the past 3 months. However, narrowing this piece to something specific would be much more difficult, and I knew that whatever I wrote would be immediately out-of-date in this fast-moving pandemic. That concern in itself has become the focus. As we address the challenges ahead, let’s take care to record the history to guide us next time.
Our readers know that COVID-19 does not present our first pandemic, nor will it be our last. It presents a disease caused by a unique, readily spread respiratory virus. As the pandemic presses on, each day brings more updates. Practitioners forced to make quick patient care and policy decisions while following new developments and keeping up with advancing literature, plus monitoring their own health, will be hard-pressed to do anything else. However, to the extent possible, I believe it is crucial that we document the advance of COVID-19 and our successes and failures in dealing with it along the way.
We are encountering COVID-19 with a highly interconnected, international society that presents new opportunities and obstacles for its citizenry. Social media is ubiquitous, offering a platform for the dissemination of good ideas (such as a shared Google document on treatment possibilities, started by Section Editor Conan MacDougall), clinicians describing situations they encounter, patient experiences, and rapid distribution of new literature. However, it also accelerates the propagation of fear, anxiety, and misinformation. Preprints of new findings about SARS—CoV-2 and clinical experience treating COVID-19 provide information more quickly to frontline clinicians looking for help. Also, more people have the capability of teleworking than ever before, and educational institutions can offer classes virtually. Telemedicine has become more common and may see rapid uptake for nonurgent needs during the pandemic. All will affect our management in new ways that should be noted.
What’s the point? History shows us that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes if we do not learn from them, and we are relearning past lessons right now. Our national infrastructure to respond to infectious threats has been degraded through policy decisions, budget cuts, and open positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Private industry has little incentive to develop anti-infectives for threats that fizzle out, so therapeutics that were beginning to be developed to treat earlier coronaviruses did not come to fruition. As COVID-19 progresses, we will learn many more lessons, not only in the obvious topics of epidemiology, therapeutics, public health, and infection control, but also in psychology, sociology, and political science.
During the time that I’ve had the pleasure of serving as Editor-in-Chief, Contagion® has grown considerably. My goal has always been to deliver a product that offers true utility to the infectious diseases community, and now is a key time for us to step up and deliver. You will see an increase in COVID-19 content on our pages and the web as we cover multiple aspects of this emerging challenge. This issue contains an interview on COVID-19 with Christina Tan, MD, MPH, from the New Jersey Department of Health. We also feature an article on measures taken against the Ebola virus disease in Congo.
Be well, and thank you for reading Contagion®.
*Gallagher is an active member of the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists.