It is too early to consider COVID-19 an endemic disease in New Jersey, and misinformation about the coronavirus and our protection options continues to threaten people’s lives.
It was a consensus among four health professionals who joined NJ Spotlight News on Wednesday for a virtual roundtable “Living with COVID: From Pandemic to Endemic”. Among the participants in the discussion were Dr. Eddie Bresnitz, a former state epidemiologist; Dr. John Bonamo, Executive Vice President, RWJBarnabas Health; Dr. Denise Rogers, vice rector of Rutgers University, and nurse at Camden City School District Robin Cogan.
The talk, preceded by a short keynote address by Linda Schwimmer, president and director general of the New Jersey Institute of Health Quality, also touched on measures to respond to COVID-19 in public schools where masks are no longer needed, and the state’s ability to control viral spread. Discussion participants discussed how COVID-19 treatment has improved significantly in two years, while access to the latest options remains a challenge, and how it is too early to know whether we will need another booster dose of the vaccine this year.
Here are edited excerpts from the event:
Dr. John Bonham on the transition from pandemic to endemic:
“I don’t believe we are still in the endemic phase. I think maybe we said it’s too early because we hope to be there … I’m worried about the (impact) of celebrating too early on people who don’t do things that we know are useful because even in the endemic phase of the disease people are still sick or people are still dying … But now we have to live with managing this (risk) and declaring (pandemic) too fast – a great way to make it unmanageable again ”.
About each other’s safety: “We believe that people should not forget about hand hygiene, do not forget about social distancing, do not forget about protecting sources (for example, avoiding infected people) and camouflage – everything that worked before will work. As for families, they have to make some personal decisions … If there is a big family reunion (and) if people have opportunities, they need to be checked before, or maybe they need to be checked before and after. If they have the ability to do so, it’s just an extra level of protection.
“And there are people who, of course, will never do it, because they refuse to believe that it is so serious … But there are many people who do so. And thank God for these people, because they ensure the safety of many other people, having such a high index of suspicion. “
Dr. Denise Rogers on communication issues:
“We have an opinion that we have turned the tide (from pandemic to endemic). So keeping track of contacts will be even harder because people say, “Oh, we’re all done” and “We really don’t need to be so vigilant”.
“I listen to our conversation and realize that there are a lot of people in our audience who think we’re exaggerating, who think we’re just something more than ‘Chicken, the sky’s falling.’ ‘This is one of the biggest difficulties for us in this work in terms of public health and prevention. We no longer have a common set of facts. And the data is very clear about how serious the disease is. However, I certainly feel some responsibility – as a person who has spent his career working in communities – for what seems to be my relative lack of ability to help people understand what this data means and what the facts are. And that COVID is something we need to continue to take very, very, very seriously. “
About COVID-19 in children and misinformation: “I think it’s one of those areas where people have difficulty with ambiguity and uncertainty because it’s true that children are, by and large, not as bad as adults (who have higher mortality from COVID-19 and especially) older people with underlying chronic disease. On the other hand, there are many children who unfortunately die, as well as children who get complications from COVID. And there is some evidence that perhaps up to 10% of (infected) children develop long-term COVID.
“We don’t have a very good way to talk to families about it because you certainly don’t want to overestimate death so that people just fear for their children. But you also want to understand that this is not exactly a benign disease for all children. … There is a huge amount of misinformation and misinformation about vaccination (COVID), and this is complicated by the fact that we have had decades of misinformation about childhood vaccinations … It was just extremely difficult for us to get this nonsense out of the public eye. We need to continue to consider (risk) in the future, but also inform families about the importance of vaccinating their children. ”
Nurse Robin Cogan on Child and School Safety:
“Children are facing increasing danger, especially due to the fact that now we are giving up the mask, and the level of vaccination has stopped. I think that’s really exciting. I think it’s important to have a conversation on “Are we ending these mask mandates too soon?” or “We don’t know what’s going on with this new option.”… Children under five aren’t even eligible for the vaccine. All of these reasons are in fact part of the rationale for why Camden City School District and other urban school districts have decided to continue the widespread camouflage because we need to protect everyone. We need to make public spaces safer for everyone.
“New Jersey residents and our children deserve to be involved in school and community life. But we also have children with weakened immune systems at school. We have children under the age of five who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. You know, in our buildings there are adults with weakened immune systems. We have considered all the reasons in our particular community to maintain universal camouflage until we have more specific indications of when it is truly safe to abandon the only safeguards we have.
“The school really needs to be seen as a congressman. We spend so much time there to gather in large groups. Although we don’t sleep there, we certainly spend most of our day at school. And so in order to be able to safely attend school and safely receive the most important services that we know children need (including) training, of course, nutrition, health care, everything we give at school, we are looking for a continuation of universal disguise as a protective measure. “
Dr. Eddie Bresnitz on the fourth vaccination against COVID-19:
“The interest is great (fourth dose). And right now there were no recommendations (federal regulators) on another booster dose. We really don’t know when to give it away. We do not know what may be the longevity of this dose. Pfizer applied to the FDA yesterday for emergency use to administer the fourth dose to the elderly, and they base their data on several studies in Israel … I think both studies suggest the benefit of the fourth dose, but I honestly would not establish a policy The U.S. is on these studies from Israel, and I think, especially in the current environment, when we have so few diseases because you can’t keep pushing everyone every three to four months, it’s not a good approach to health care.
“And then the question arises as to whether the vaccines we use will continue to be effective against the following options. And we have no idea about it. Thus, there are many unknowns as to when a booster dose, a fourth dose, or a second booster may come up. We just aren’t there yet, but it will be discussed by the FDA and their advisory committee, I guess, next month.
“Vaccines are the basis for our preventive measures … But the bottom line is that a significant portion of the population not only in New Jersey but across the country, perhaps now in some other states, is refusing vaccination. and no one will ever convince them that they should get vaccinated if they may not get sick and survive. ”