187: Fighting COVID-19 Fatigue

Dr. Manisha Juthani, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, fresh off her time at the ASTHO COVID-19 Summit in Washington D.C., explains the challenge COVID-19 will present for public health officials in the coming months.


Dr. Manisha Juthani, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, fresh off her time at the ASTHO COVID-19 Summit in Washington D.C., explains the challenge COVID-19 will present for public health officials in the coming months.

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Transcript

ROBERT JOHNSON:

This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, May 26th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, a special conversation with Connecticut health commissioner, Dr. Manisha Juthani. We caught up with her at this week's COVID-19 summit hosted by ASTHO. Here's what she took from the meeting and how she sees the response going forward.

You're one of the many state health officials who attended the COVID summit in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. Why is it important for someone in your position to be in this discussion at this time?

MANISHA JUTHANI:

All of us state health officials have been dealing with COVID for many months and years now. And having a moment to reflect, pause, and decide how we're going to be moving forward as we enter this new phase of the pandemic is very critical. And having that opportunity to do that together—either virtually or in-person—where we can reconnect with people who've been going through the same challenges and trying to find ways that we can still engage the public and engage people that are important in this conversation moving forward is critical at this juncture.

JOHNSON:

This is not a normal meeting. I mean, you're talking about how to deal with a virus that is just causing problems and has been doing so for a long time. What do you take away from a meeting like this when you go home to Connecticut to do your job?

JUTHANI:

I realize, first of all, that I'm not doing this alone. Many of my fellow state health officials are facing the same challenges that I am. We also realize that the public is in a different place than where they were two years ago, but that we are all dealing with that same challenge.

So, one of the great benefits of a meeting like this is recognizing the similarities that we have—though we all are different in our localities and in our states—but the similarities that we have learning from each other's experiences, brainstorming together, having that opportunity to build on each other's strengths and weaknesses and experiences to date, to figure out how we're going to be able to move forward.

JOHNSON:

Is that the biggest challenge—keeping the public engaged?

JUTHANI:

That is absolutely, I believe, one of our biggest challenges moving forward. Because as much as everybody wants this pandemic to be over, unfortunately this virus is showing us that it doesn't want to be only seasonal—which we were hoping it did—and that we are going to have moments of surge—although they are going to probably be the worst in the winter—that they're going to continue through the year and in any given cycle at different times based on weather.

And that is a real challenge because to have the public engage in this conversation when people want to be done with it—or maybe think about it, at most, once a year—is a very different challenge, especially when we're talking about a very tired healthcare workforce and hospital system as well that continues to have to care for COVID patients and patients that have had other medical problems and have been sitting on the sidelines for a very long time.

JOHNSON:

And that makes it hard also to advocate for continued funding because the people who write the checks, they're tired of it, too.

JUTHANI:

As a society, we're tired of this—that is normal in terms of human behavior—but we absolutely need legislators to understand that, as much as we all may be tired of it, closing our eyes and just pretending it's going away is not going to be able to be a sustainable response. And there's no doubt that we need federal money to be able to sustain the efforts that we have needed to put towards COVID-19.

JOHNSON:

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing you and your colleagues going into the rest of 2022? Have we talked about it already, or is there something else?

JUTHANI:

In the northeast, right now we're going through a surge in COVID, and what we can anticipate based on what we've seen these last two years is that the Southern states are going to have their surge this summer when things get probably a little better in the northeast—everybody goes indoors into the AC and they're going to have a rise in cases. And then, before you know, it's going to be the fall and the winter. So, how do you engage in communication that keeps people at least listening to us and moderating it?

What we really need to remember is we aren't where we were two years ago. We are also not in a position where we need to be very scared. We have vaccinations, we have therapeutics, we have other mitigation like masking. But with those strategies, we can live with COVID and yet move forward—still taking all those things into account—to have a sustained response to this pandemic. And that is, I think, our biggest challenge, but one that is loud and clear after coming out of this meeting,

 

JOHNSON:

That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Manisha Juthani MD

Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health