COVID

Dr. Jha on what we can expect from COVID-19 next, and how you can prepare

Dr. Jha says we're in a better place than we have been but that we must keep our eyes on the ball.

Jabin Botsford
Ashish Jha is now on the hot seat as the new White House coronavirus response coordinator. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

We are in a “complicated moment” in the pandemic, Dr. Ashish Jha, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, wrote in an op-ed for CNN.com Monday.

While infections in the U.S. are relatively low and hospitalizations are near the lowest levels they have been since March 2020, cases are rising again in many parts of the country due to the more transmissible omicron subvariant called BA.2., he wrote.

Jha wrote that it is unlikely that BA.2 will cause as impactful a surge as the original omicron variant, but that it’s important that we keep track of it. We should also remember that hundreds of Americans are still dying from COVID-19 each day, he wrote.

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“We have a choice to make: We can wait and see what happens next, or we can use this moment as an opportunity to prepare,” he wrote.

Jha wrote that if we prepare now, we can get ahead of the virus and be ready for the next wave.

As a country, we are still vulnerable to COVID-19, Jha wrote. Not only is BA.2 highly contagious, but many Americans still aren’t vaccinated or have waning immunity.

Additionally, he wrote, we’ve seen a new significant variant every four to six months during the pandemic, and there’s no reason to think that will change.

“We could get lucky. But counting on luck isn’t a strategy. Preparation is a strategy,” he wrote.

Here’s what Dr. Jha says we need to do as a country to prepare:

  1. Strengthen our COVID-19 surveillance systems so we can identify variants early and predict surges, partially by expanding wastewater surveillance.
  2. Maintain our testing capacity by stockpiling tests now while demand is low. He said in an interview with NPR Monday that setting up more test-to-treat sites, keeping them free, and being deliberate about where they are located will be important for the accessibility of testing.
  3. Work hard to protect the most vulnerable, including older adults, the immunocompromised, and people with disabilities. This means getting a booster shot and a second booster if you are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.
  4. Expand the use of Evusheld, a preventive therapy that provides strong protection against infection for those who don’t respond effectively to vaccines.
  5. Make treatments like Paxlovid — an antiviral medication that is effective at treating COVID-19 — more available and publicized now that it is not in short supply. Jha told NPR that this needs to happen with an eye towards helping disproportionately impacted communities, such as Black and brown communities.
  6. Keep helping Americans get vaccinated by making vaccines accessible and free.
  7. Make high-quality masks widely available and free at health centers, grocery stores, and drug stores.
  8. Help the world get vaccinated, given that every variant so far has originated outside the U.S.
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“We can do this. But we need funding to make it happen,” Jha wrote.

New, potentially more effective and long-lasting COVID-19 vaccines are expected to come out this fall, he wrote, as well as more treatments for the virus. The U.S. also needs to keep purchasing vaccines for its citizens, he wrote.

None of that is possible without monetary support from Congress, Jha wrote.

Right now, the Biden Administration is asking Congress for $22 billion for COVID-19 relief funds. Jha told NPR that this money is essential for protecting the country against COVID-19, and that it’s less than the Biden Administration had originally planned to ask for.

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“Two years ago, it felt like we were at the mercy of this virus that we didn’t understand and couldn’t counter. That is no longer the case,” he wrote.

“We now have the know-how and the means to reduce its spread and prevent its most serious consequences. We can save lives, protect people, keep schools open and keep returning to a more normal set of routines.”

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