NORTHBROOK, Ill.—June 5, 2020—In this edition of Straight Talk with Jeff Cross, Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of ISSA, discusses what exactly a pandemic is, how we know when it’s over, and the challenges we face in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.
Dr. Macgregor-Skinner explains that the current definition of “pandemic” by the World Health Organization is based on location—not risk or rate of transmission. To be declared a pandemic, a new virus must be spreading locally within the community on at least two continents. “When a pandemic is declared, this is the trigger mechanism that opens up lots of resources—money, people, staff, space,” Dr. Macgregor-Skinner said. “The challenge with any new disease is moving quickly to get the information to make appropriate decisions.” He asserts that it’s critical we move more quickly in pandemics in order to mitigate the dire effects we are seeing in terms of both human life and economic damage in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another challenge in addressing a pandemic is fatigue. Dr. Macgregor-Skinner explains that after a while, the public grows tired of the worry and stress over the virus and they become lax in adhering to social distancing and other protective guidelines. Fatigue is also a problem among the cleaning industry where professionals can become similarly exhausted by the high level of vigilance required to use PPE correctly, perform daily risk assessments, and apply disinfectants thoroughly enough to break the chain of transmission.
Dr. Macgregor-Skinner also says our response to the COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t be “one size fits all; it’s based on risk assessments at the local level of where active virus is being transmitted between people.” He says we can do better at that by tracking virus cases and making neighborhood-level recommendations.
When it comes to determining the end of the pandemic, Dr. Macgregor-Skinner says, “It could go on for months; it could go on for years. We just don’t know now.” He explains the challenge is in determining what the indicators will be that the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, but there are too many unknowns to make any predictions right now. For example, we don’t know how COVID-19 transmission might change with seasonality or how it will interact with our typical cold and flu season. “People have to prepare that this is the new normal. There’s a lot of things we can do, there’s things that we have to do differently, and we need to stick with that,” said Dr. Macgregor-Skinner.
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