The virus has been fought for over half a year now. While at the beginning the right response was hotly debated, we have learned some things in the meantime. Here are some of the key lessons and how to apply them.
Although more than 31 million people have been infected with the virus and more than 970.000 have lost their lives to the pandemic, the early projections of mortality were much worse. The ability of people to learn and change behaviors as well as the global public-health response has saved millions of lives with the result that the fear of millions of deaths by June 2020 has proven wrong. And now a growing number of countries are restarting more aspects of normal life while keeping the cases low. Generally speaking, one can say that countries that have successfully reduced their active cases of COVID-19 have been more successful at reopening their economies as well. Understanding what to do and executing well have been the two things it ultimately has come down to.
In particular, the interference can be broken down in three categories:
- Detecting disease;
- Reducing new cases;
- Limiting mortality.
In order to prevent future infection waves from happening, it is crucial to apply those health interventions on both public and private areas of our lives.
The ability to detect cases of COVID-19 is a critical prerequisite for effective public-health programs, to do so, disease surveillance is of high importance.
Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data is fundamental to the management of infectious diseases.
The best surveillance systems combine traditional and newer data sets. While protecting individual privacy they let one draw conclusion about the characteristics and location of those infected.
Just as much as overall disease surveillance can cluster analysis be very helpful for medical professionals to comprehend when, where, how and between whom transmission occurs. So called superspreaders – infected individuals who pass the virus to many others – are easier to reveal and clusters may also lead to a deeper comprehension of transmission dynamics.
In addition to cluster analysis, wastewater surveillance – an underutilized tool globally – is another useful way to detect cases of COVID-19.
After finding DNA-evidence of the virus in the stool of infected people, it was also detectable in municipal wastewater. In conclusion, the surveillance of wastewater can be a lucrative approach in the fight against the lethal disease.
The second step ultimately has to be the reduction of new cases, so that a pass on of the disease can be prevented. This can be done by identifying and isolating infectious people, guaranteeing physical distance, and reducing both the risk of encounters and case migration. Useful interventions therefore include the requirement of masks in enclosed areas, the canceling of major events, as well as the restriction of capacity in social settings, and implementing confinement measures.
To reduce the number of new cases long-term, expanding the test capacity is crucial, too. Testing and tracing have played major roles in the successful response to various phases of the pandemic.
In addition to reducing case numbers, limiting the mortality is an important element in the fight against the virus. It is mandatory for healthcare systems to be better prepared in the future. When, initially, one in five patients were dependent on ventilators, the world witnessed many health systems nearly break under the exponential increasement of cases, which must never happen again. Trying to create a surge capacity resulted in an imbalance, with overloaded health systems in COVID-19 epicenters transformed into disaster-response focal points. However, our medical systems should be able to anticipate, plan for, manage, and navigate the pandemic satisfactorily both for patients with COVID-19 and for patients with other illnesses.
Although a successful vaccine hasn’t been found yet, two other medications turned out to be very sufficient. Dexamethasone effectively lowers the mortality rate and Remdesivir scales down the recovery time by an average of four days.
It is to hope that over time the mortality rate can be reduced to the point at which the disease is far less feared.
Even though the pandemic isn’t over yet and there are likely still a few challenges to face, we can take some comfort from the fact that, now almost eight months after the virus outbreak in Europe, far more is known and understood about controlling the Corona virus and restrictions can be set more accordingly.