A Covid crisis that was not inevitable

By Dr Harry J. Heiman

Our current crisis was not inevitable. Eighteen months ago, we faced the collective challenge of a global pandemic unlike any we have ever seen. This required a huge learning curve in understanding and responding from a public health workforce who had been chronically underfunded and understaffed.

In the face of this formidable challenge, we have witnessed successes and failures in leadership at all levels of government and public health. Adaptive leadership in the face of an evolving pandemic is difficult, even for those who are best prepared. We have also witnessed the unfortunate politicization of critical public health strategies and the blatant spread of disinformation. However, as the current variant of the Delta coronavirus increases in Georgia and the South, each day brings a new dystopian reality.


As of September 2021, it’s no coincidence that the wave of delta variants that started in Missouri and Arkansas is now ravaging Georgia and the southern states. Based on data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, we are on the verge of surpassing the record number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths we saw last winter. For public health experts, this was both predictable and preventable. The combination of low vaccination rates in Georgia and the lack of coordinated state-level policies to protect the public and mitigate the spread in the community has made us the perfect target for this virulent new strain.

Tragically, the rhetoric and blind faith that “the people of our state will do the right thing” is reflected in our current crisis. Not only is Georgia a national outlier as evidenced by our low vaccination rates, but our state’s public health and political leadership have consistently failed to follow the science and the evidence to put in place policies that harness both tools. the most powerful to reverse the course of the pandemic. – vaccines and masks. Although our governor has repeatedly stated that he does not believe in warrants, they are both proven and necessary to control this pandemic and save lives.

To be clear, laws and mandates to protect public health are part of our daily life. Georgians are forced to wear seat belts in their cars, despite the physical “discomfort” they may cause or the belief in some, despite compelling evidence, that seat belts do not increase safety. Georgians are prohibited from smoking in public places – a restriction on personal freedom – based on clear evidence documenting the health risks of second-hand smoke.

Children and university students are required to provide materials on a range of vaccines before entering school, including vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, meningitis and other diseases. . It is as it should be. But ironically, the coronavirus currently poses a greater threat than any of these other diseases.

The failure of our current state leaders to adopt common sense public health measures to protect our children, families and communities will predictably worsen this pandemic and continue to result in preventable cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Nowhere is this lack of leadership deeper than in our state schools and universities. Based on current public health data and guidelines, the following policies should be adopted immediately: All K-12 schools should institute immunization mandates for teachers and staff and mandates for mask for students, teachers and staff.

In-person lessons are essential, especially for young children. Forcing them to attend in-person classes in the absence of a mask warrant is fueling current epidemics in our state’s schools and increasing cases and hospitalizations among children and adolescents.

The current policies of the Georgia university system run counter to the educational missions of our public institutions as well as our ethical responsibility to ensure the safety and health of students, faculty, and staff. The current lack of vaccines and mandatory masks and the requirement that classes be held in person will predictably lead to epidemics. Professors are prohibited from asking questions about immunization status or forcing students to wear masks in their classrooms or private offices. This USG’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy approach does not allow flexibility on the part of individual institutions or faculty members based on their desire to meet the educational and security needs of students. It is both untenable and unethical.

How can we justify policies that run counter to current evidence and the public health sciences we teach? It is essential that the US government put in place policies and guidelines aligned with current evidence and guidelines. That includes joining the country’s roughly 680 colleges and universities, including those in states like Indiana, Virginia, and Louisiana, with vaccination mandates. It also means instituting a mask mandate and appropriate social distancing for all interior spaces on college campuses.

From the Georgia Recorder

Finally, it requires allowing for greater flexibility and accommodations for faculty members, students and staff who find themselves in exceptionally high risk situations related to Covid.

The course of this pandemic is not inevitable. But to reverse the trend requires critical political leadership from the state. In the absence of state leadership guided by science and evidence, we will continue to see an increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, with our schools, colleges and universities at the epicenter of our crisis which getting worse.

Dr Heiman is a family physician and public health expert in Atlanta. He emphasizes that the views and opinions expressed in this commentary are his own and do not reflect those of Georgia State University, where he is a faculty member.

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