Coronavirus Report

Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Dr. Tom Inglesby

The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Read excerpts from the interview below.

{mosads}Steve Clemons: What is going well and what is not going well as we all battle this virus.

Tom Inglesby: Well, I think what’s going well is that the messages around physical distancing, and masks, and avoiding gatherings, and telecommuting, I think people are hearing those messages and largely responsive to them. Obviously, it’s not universal, and there are some people in the country who are not necessarily persuaded of those actions. But I think overall, collectively we should be happy as a country that we’ve been able to change the trajectory of the epidemic. We continue to have the largest epidemic in the world, but we’ve been able to change that trajectory. … What I’m more worried about is, that there is a sense by some that this may be over in, you know, in June or that this may end soon, and that will be completely back to where we were before. That’s not going to happen. This virus is still circulating in our country. It’s still circulating the world. It’s causing terrible damage in countries around the world. In some places, many, many countries have increasing numbers of cases on a day-to-day basis that are rising pretty sharply. So, we’re going to have to find a way to live with this virus until we have a vaccine. And I think that the measures that we’ve been talking about are the most important ones even as we reopen.


Clemons: Do you sense from your colleagues that they think this is going to be a shorter road than we would normally have?

Inglesby: Well, yeah. I didn’t mean to imply on the discussion with Chuck Todd yesterday that it’s going to be a short road. Even if we do have a vaccine at the end of the year or the beginning of next year that still needs to be produced on a large scale, it still needs to be distributed to places around the world. It would not all be ready at the same time. So even if we do have a vaccine at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, there will be a lot of work to do both in the U.S. and around the world to get it to people, to figure out who’s at highest risk, who should be the highest priority for getting the vaccine. I do think everything would have to go in the right direction for us to have a vaccine by the end of this year, the beginning of next year. There are lots of ways that it might not work, in the event that the vaccine doesn’t prove to be as safe as we hope it would be or as effective.


Clemons: What are the best insights you have on how to resolve the tension between scientists and the politics of just giving people what they want?

Inglesby: I do think it needs to be a partnership between political leadership, and public health input, and scientific input. I think one without the other won’t work. But we’ve seen that in countries around the world, some of the countries that have great success, like New Zealand, there’s a very close partnership between political leadership and public health leadership, and it’s a model that’s worked before, and I think it’s going to continue to be important throughout our response in the United States. We’re going to need to have the input of scientific and public health leaders because things are going to keep evolving. Different challenges will emerge both with our public health response, with new therapies, with new clinical developments that we learned about with this virus. Even in the last month, we’ve seen this virus could do things that we didn’t anticipate as recently as April. So, there will need to be very close partnership between scientific leaders and political leaders. And, I think the role of CDC is very important, and we should make sure that CDC continues to have a strong voice in the country they have in all past outbreaks, since I can remember, and they should continue to bring their expertise to bear. We have thousands of people working at CDC on epidemic response, and they’re very important. We also have amazing federal agencies like NIH, FDA, BARDA, ASPR, and a really strong research community in this country. So hopefully, those voices will be able to help usefully shape the response and bring political leaders the input they need to make good decisions.


Clemons: How do we go from this moment of fighting the current pandemic to being much smarter about the future and the next pandemic?

Inglesby: Yeah, there has been definitely a cycle in public health response to infectious disease emergencies. There’s a lot of attention at the moment of an event and then in the years that follow there’s a period of kind of loss of attention, people move on, political leaders have other priorities that emerge. So hopefully, the traumatic nature of this event is so compelling that there is a bipartisan consensus that we need strong public health programs in this country. We need to spend more money on vaccine development which could change everything. There has been a dramatic shortening of the timeline of vaccine development around the world in the last 15 years because of loss of investment. But, waiting a year or 18 months to have a new vaccine with this kind of pandemic ravaging the world, we should just all collectively say that’s unacceptable and we will spend the money needed to shorten vaccine timelines dramatically before we have another pandemic that’s on top of us. So, we need to make big investments in vaccine development that are sustained. We need to change the way we think about our supply chain. We can’t be in a position where only a few countries were providing masks, gowns, gloves, eye protection and everyone needs them at the same time in the world. We saw our doctors and nurses in March having to go take care of COVID patients without the proper equipment. We can’t let that happen again. We have to prepare our health care systems better.


Clemons: Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland seems balanced. What do you think a successful governor looks like in the era of coronavirus? What can they get right, and what can they get wrong?

Inglesby: Yes, I have been very impressed with Gov. Hogan’s approach to this. Right from the beginning, I think he was asking for scientific advice, public health input, hospital-based input as he was making decisions about stay-at-home orders or social distancing measures. And I’ve also been impressed that he thinks it is very important to wear a mask, for himself personally to wear a mask in public, he’s been very clear about the need to wear masks when people are in indoor spaces, outside of their homes. He’s been very clear about physical distancing, the importance of avoiding gatherings. So, he’s been very clear with his messages and he’s been very methodical and seeks the input of outside scientific public health folks, consistently. I think, as a model, I think, for the country I think it’s going to be really important for political leaders to continue to communicate how important it is to take individual actions, even as they’re opening their own states by various processes, they’re opening businesses or whatever steps people are taking, governors are taking, it’s going to be very important for them to continue to say how vital it is to continue individual physical distancing. And I think governors that are doing that well, that’s a really important part of leadership right now.

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