Dr. Jha: U.S. in good shape, but “not out of the woods” with COVID

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health held a virtual Q&A on Tuesday where he spoke to the press about the current COVID situation across the globe and here in the United States.

Dr. Ashish Jha started his remarks by speaking about the coronavirus outbreak in India, which is the worst in the world. On Sunday, the Biden Administration announced they’d agree to send vaccine doses to India to help.

He said compared to the United States, the contrast is “jarring.”

Dr. Jha said the U.S. is currently experiencing a fourth wave but we are at the tail end of it, and he does not expect the country to experience another surge.

“America has been seeing a little bit of a mini fourth wave. We are on the tail end of that fourth wave. We had a little bump up in infections, but it is now starting to come down,” he said. “I remain a little bit worried about what the South and Southwest is gonna experience once we get into June, and I’m particularly concerned about the half a dozen states where vaccinations rates are very, very low.”

He said the biggest question right now for the U.S. is how quickly and how effectively can we drive infections down. He said he’d like to see us dip to 10,000 positive cases a day or less.

As for vaccinations, he said “with a lot of work” the U.S. could get to 70-80% of Americans fully vaccinated over the next few months. As of last weekend, more than 138 million people in the U.S. received at least one vaccine dose. According to the CDC, approximately 1.3 million more are getting a first dose every day.

Dr. Jha said we will continue to see outbreaks, and the COVID situation will not be uniform across the U.S.

“At any given point, different parts of the country are experiencing different things,” he said. While he remains optimistic about the country’s current outlook for the next few months, Dr. Jha said it’s important to watch what unfolds in the south.

“We’re not out of the woods, but as a nation, we’re heading in the right direction.”

He anticipates that in the next few years, the United States and Europe will be in good shape when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak. But, he said, much of the world will “be aflame” with high infection rates.

He said global vaccinations are something that everyone needs to be on board with to effectively fight the virus.

As for vaccinating children, Dr. Jha said he expects the FDA to open vaccine eligibility to those aged 12-15 soon, possibly by late May.

On the topic of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine pause, he said he’s thrilled it’s unpaused, as it’s an easier alternative to the two-shot vaccines.

“We’ve got to build a lot more flexibility in the system,” said Dr. Jha about how difficult it is for people to make time for their second shot.

“One of the things I often hear from people, they go to sign up, and they have to sign up for their second dose. And it’s hard for people, a lot of people who are, whose shift work is not always schedulable four weeks out. That presents enough of a barrier for people that they decide they just can’t sign up.”

It was reported this week that millions of people are skipping their second dose.

“The barriers are different for different populations,” said Stefanie Friedhoff of Brown, “but we’ve fallen into a narrative of either blaming Black people, and then we figure, wait, it’s not actually that they don’t want the vaccine, there’s all these other issues… and now we’re sort of launching into a narrative of blaming conservative voters, and neither of these narratives are helpful.”

Dr. Jha said there are also hangups when it comes to the signup process. He said he’s been signing up friends in Massachusetts, and each time, insurance info is asked.

“It’s not really clear why we require that upfront to sign up… Things like that create barriers and make it harder,” Dr. Jha said.

On Tuesday, the CDC is expected to release updated guidance for outdoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people. Dr. Jha said he guesses the CDC will say it’s important to wear a mask while outside in crowded settings, but otherwise will be deemed low-risk and unnecessary if socially distanced.

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Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island