PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One year after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, doctors and scientists are still learning more every day.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, answered reporters’ questions Thursday about vaccines, testing, strategies for schools and other COVID-19-related topics.
“One of the key things we’re going to want to do in the medium to long run, over the next few months as we pull out of this acute phase of this pandemic, is we are going to need to do a very deep dive into what happened over the year,” Jha said. “How did our nation end up with more than 500,000 Americans dead in this pandemic?”
“This is not the last pandemic we’re going to face, and we will need to do much, much better next time around,” he added.
Jha says right now, the country is in much better shape than it was during the darkest days of the pandemic, but he is worried about states fully reopening and dropping all public health restrictions like mask-wearing.
“This is not the time to do that,” he said. “But will it ever be the moment? The answer is yes, and soon.”
Jha attributes that to a high rate of infection, along with more highly contagious coronavirus variants in circulation. He predicts the B.1117 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom, will become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of the month.
“I am on the optimistic side of the debate on what the impact of that will be. I think we will see a bump in cases, but we will not see a massive spike in cases,” Jha said.
While there are three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use, less than 20% of the total U.S. population has been reached so far. On Thursday, Rhode Island surpassed 100,000 people fully vaccinated.
“A vast majority of people who are high-risk for complications of this disease have not yet even received their first shot,” Jha said. “It’s not just older people over 55, it’s people with chronic diseases.”
Jha signaled that more vaccines on the way is good news, and he expects high-risk individuals will get at least one dose in the coming weeks. Jha says at that point, states could reassess further reopening.
“So we’re not talking about waiting six months. We’re literally talking about waiting four weeks, maybe six,” he added.