Vigilance About Public Health

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

No matter how we look at things, it’s been a long couple of years since the start of the pandemic. Somehow, 2019 seems like a lifetime ago instead of just 22 months. Try as I might, I find that it’s hard to remember what it felt like living in a world that didn’t know about Covid. Even as I say that, I find that I’m also surprised at how easily we’ve moved on from a public health mindset.

Part of me says “good for us,” why let Covid change us any more than it already has, let’s just continue to get on with business. The flip side of that begs the question, can it really be that easy? Can we really afford to ignore it or forget about it? I guess everyone will answer that question in their own way, but for me it starts with numbers.

Recently, a colleague reminded me about the website ncov2019.live, which was created in January 2020 by an 18-year-old high school senior named Avi Schiffman from the State of Washington. This young man, along with a friend, created the website to keep anyone interested updated as to “how the world is handling the coronavirus pandemic.”

This website gathers or “scrubs” information from local government and health department websites from around the world, COV19, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization, then pulls it all together on an almost continuous basis to update the “dashboard”—and it is impressive. It’s also easy to use.

According to ncov2019.live, here in the United States as of this writing, there have been some 83,553,386 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Of that number, 80,919,386 people have recovered and 1,024,454 of our fellow Americans have died from the disease.

According to ncov2019.live, here in New Jersey out of a population of 8,882,190 people, there have been 2,285,641 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Of that number, 2,149,272 of our fellow New Jerseyans have recovered and sadly, we’ve lost 33,487 of our neighbors. For what it’s worth, 8,034,624 residents of the Garden State have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

As mind-numbing as these numbers are, it is the future that has my attention. As I write this, news reports tell of two new strains of Covid that are likely more transmissible than what was dubbed “stealth omicron.” If there is good news, it’s that these new strains (B.A.4 and B.A.5), which originated in South Africa like the original omicron, don’t seem to cause severe infection.

But what happens when fall and winter arrive? I hope I’m wrong, but we could be just a couple of mutations away from going back to some extremely hard days. My point is that I don’t think we should put our masks away for good, especially as we head into the latter part of the year.

But mostly, I don’t think we should put away the new public health awareness that many of us acquired as a result of this pandemic. These days it’s certainly an awareness of Covid, but it’s also flu, hepatitis, food safety, HIV, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, alcohol-related harms, opioid addiction, depression, and obesity, to name a few of the health concerns.

For many of those already contending with one or more of these conditions, Covid was simply not survivable. That’s part of why we need to be more serious about our public health, why we can’t afford to politicize public health and draw battle lines, because we don’t know what’s coming next.

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