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COVID expert: Return to normal against 3 respiratory viruses 'not going to go well'

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Friday, September 29, 2023 - 7:05am
Updated: Friday, September 29, 2023 - 8:06am

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Brown University.
Dr. Ashish Jha, former White House COVID-19 response coordinator and current dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden declared the COVID-19 pandemic over.

But many experts say COVID-19 still isn’t just another seasonal respiratory virus and, even if it were, it would be hard to manage when people are struggling to get, and pay for, vaccines.

Dr. Ashish Jha, former White House COVID-19 response coordinator, says Biden had strategies to ease what he knew would be a rocky shift away from a federal single-payer to private insurance and commercial suppliers.

He declined to list those efforts or say how many had been implemented.

But he emphasized that, no matter what, the country needs something better than a return to normal.

“The goal should not be, ‘Well, let's just go ahead and — we barely could manage RSV and flu, let's just go ahead and throw in COVID and see how it goes,’” said Jha, who is currently dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It's not going to go well.”

As examples, he cited systemic inequities, overcrowded hospitals during the holidays and the tens of thousands who die each year — often needlessly — from flu.

“There is a series of strategies that we should be deploying for respiratory viruses during respiratory season that should lead us to a new normal where the infection numbers — and, more importantly, the death numbers — are dramatically lower,” Jha said.

Beyond vaccines and treatments, he said the country needs to improve indoor air quality and return to pandemic-level deep cleaning and handwashing to combat flu and RSV.

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