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There is reason to be optimistic for what lies ahead in the fight against COVID-19

For all the dark days of this pandemic — and there are still more to come — there is now an unmistakable light ahead. Vaccines are moving: not as fast as hoped, but moving. Winter always melts to spring and warmer temperatures ease time spent outdoors. The future still holds uncertainty, and the next six to eight weeks will be tough. But there is much we do know. There are things we can do to make a difference. Importantly, there are reasons to be hopeful about what’s ahead.

We now know what works to stop the spread of COVID-19 — a welcome change from where we were last spring. Everyone must wear a mask — indoors and outdoors — when you’re with people outside your pod. Not a neck gaiter, not a bandana, not a scarf or turtleneck pulled up to cover your mouth and nose. A mask: 3-ply or 4-ply, if you can. Practice social distancing. Avoid crowds – creating them and joining them.

Vaccines are moving and finally becoming vaccinations. By the end of March, we expect close to 90 million Americans will have been vaccinated. President Joe Biden is aiming for 100 million doses administered into people’s arms in his first 100 days in office and even projects it could be 150 million. I think we can and might do even better than that. We see in the experience of other countries aggressively vaccinating their citizens, like Israel, that vaccination can curb outbreaks. We’re a bigger country so it will take us longer, but we’ll get there.

There is concern about how new variants of the coronavirus from the United Kingdom, South Africa or even Brazil might affect us. The UK variant is here, and it spreads faster and easier. But it is not some magical virus: it still adheres to the same rules as the regular strain, so wear a mask, social distance and avoid crowds. (It’s also probably time to upgrade our masks to better filtration and fit.) If we maintain an increased level of vigilance, we can get through to spring when the pandemic will begin to recede. 

It’s too early to know when or where vaccines will become available to students and those outside the priority groups first identified, including the elderly, front-line health care workers and first responders. I expect that as spring wears on, vaccines will become plentiful and students here will be able to get vaccinated. Though Rhode Island hasn’t made any specific decisions on this, once vaccines become ubiquitous there will be no reason to not give them to everyone who wants to be vaccinated against the virus. And vaccinating students here will help not just those receiving it but others in the community as well.

This summer should be a better season. A majority of adults should be vaccinated, and the disease should be in retreat — but with the occasional outbreak to remind us that it isn’t gone. This will give us plenty of time to ensure school campuses and local communities are vaccinated. Though the fall may include another year of campus-wide testing, in this new normal most sports — excluding potentially some high-risk ones, such as wrestling — should be able to resume. We can hope that choirs can again gather and shows can again return to the stage. There may be modifications in how and where we teach and learn. There may be changes in dorms and cafeterias. It’s still a bit too early to know.    

Importantly, leaders at Brown and across the country will be guided by a new administration with a strong team, driven by science and data, to implement the urgent, comprehensive response that’s needed. The months of misinformation, deception and buck-passing by our federal government are over. Instead, we’re beginning to see smart proposals to ramp up the pace and number of vaccinations, increase and improve access to testing, better support health care workers and provide more extensive aid to states. Things won’t change overnight, but they will change.

The losses of these past months can never truly be measured when we consider the pain and suffering of those who have died from COVID-19, those who have survived it or those who love and shared life with them. There is no adjective to attach to the fact that 400,000 Americans have died, nearly 100,000 in the last month alone. It is important and right to recognize and honor the lives lost, as our nation did in a ceremony of shared light that was part of the Biden Inauguration. 

We must do all that we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the loss of life. We each have a responsibility to each other, to our Brown community and to the broader community of Providence and Rhode Island. We have and must continue to rightfully recognize that we do the right thing to slow transmission because to do otherwise would put the most vulnerable among us, particularly the elderly, in unacceptable danger. Think about your parents or grandparents and all you would do to protect them. We have the same responsibility to the parents, grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles of Providence families.

Our Brown community has done an impressive job managing the pandemic. The vaccine offers great hope. But there are still some hard days ahead. We must keep up our resolve to get through those hard days but if we do, we can look forward to a better spring and lovely summer ahead.  

Dr. Ashish K. Jha is the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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