Coronavirus Briefing: Coronavirus 101: What have we learned — and when do we graduate?

This week’s Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing is 2,849 words and will take you nine minutes to read.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

We hereby divide the pandemic era into three phases:

2020 was the year of fear and loathing, a year of hunkering down and trying to size up an unknown enemy, a year of unfathomable loss of human life.

2021 is the year of hope and expectation, a year of great promise infused by the arrival of vaccines, showing up just in time to start the new year off on the right foot, or arm. 

2022, we fearlessly predict, will be the year of living not dangerously but prudently, in a world where getting accustomed to nuance and ambiguity will be part of the essential human skill set.

The likelihood is that, in the best-case scenario, the pandemic coronavirus will not melt like the Wicked Witch of the West or tumble to its death like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk (we believe in keeping our messaging simple). More likely, we will succeed in taming this killer by turning it into a nuisance with a high-level version of pest control, keeping it at bay year after year with a combination of vaccination and public health common sense.

If 2020 was our Bachelor’s degree in coronavirus and 2021 is our Master’s, 2022 will be the full-on doctorate. 

This week’s Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing is 2,849 words and will take you nine minutes to read.

First, a reality check

We’ve surpassed 30 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., with more than 12 million each in Brazil and India and 129 million worldwide. The disease has claimed more than 2.8 million lives globally, half of them coming from six countries (in order: U.S., Brazil, Mexico, India, U.K., Italy). In this country, the 528,000 deaths that occurred in the first full year of the declared pandemic correspond to one every minute, every day. In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer.

What are we ready for?

It’s almost as if we’re waiting for the cosmic drill sergeant to approach the assembled multitudes and say, “As you were.”

  • There’s sentiment on both sides: Some people don’t ever want to go back into the office. Others say they’ll quit if they can’t get together again with colleagues in the same place at the same time. In People Management, Lauren Brown weighs both sides of this equation and explores a comfortable middle ground. As one exec put it, “now is the time for employers to invest in creating long-term strategies to support robust flexible and family-friendly policies and practices.”
  • A Management Today survey finds that 72% of employers in the U.K. are planning to implement a hybrid approach that offers employees the opportunity to work “where they feel most productive.” Meanwhile, 11% of employers are fully going to remote working. 
  • Microsoft, with 160,000 employees worldwide, has tipped its hand by offering employees in its Redmond, Washington, headquarters a choice of returning to the workplace full-time, continuing to work remotely or taking a hybrid approach. Diana Bradley has details in PRWeek. A Microsoft exec describes it as “choose your own adventure.” They’re also encouraging but not requiring employees to get vaccinated.
  • We need to be prepared for a world in which testing for coronavirus remains a focal part of prevention and mitigation strategies. Not surprisingly, Amazon is already involved (is there anything they can’t or won’t do?), having just received FDA authorization for an at-home test using nasal swabs.
  • We are ready to see people again, and not just on screen. A helpful step in that direction: a 96% drop in COVID-19 nursing home cases and a 91% drop in deaths since December 20. Alicia Lasek shares details in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Vaccination and mitigation are a powerful combination, but ongoing vigilance is needed: More than 430 nursing homes saw their first-ever case during the first six weeks of 2021.
  • Also from the nursing-homes-are-not-out-of-the-woods-yet department: They are now on their own for vaccine supply and logistics, as the federal pharmacy partnership has all but ended. Kimberly Marselas offers further details in McKnight’s.
  • We are ready for a world in which COVID-19 can be treated efficiently and successfully in its early stages when it can’t be prevented. With the focus on vaccination, improvements in therapeutics have been flying under the radar. GSK and San Francisco-based Vir Technology have just applied to the FDA for emergency use authorization of a monoclonal antibody to treat adults and adolescents with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 at risk for hospitalization and death.
  • On opening day of baseball season, we learn of a major error in Baltimore – not at Camden Yards, but in a subcontractor’s plant manufacturing COVID-19 vaccine for both J&J and AstraZeneca. Ingredients for the two products, similar but not interchangeable, were conflated. Result: 15 million doses of J&J vaccine ruined. The good news here, and there is a dose of good news, is that QC works.

The Takeaway: One step and one vaccination at a time, we are coming up for more air. 

Not a moment too soon as a fourth surge prepares to descend on us (cases up in 25 states in the past week)..

Source: Getty

What have we learned?

The pandemic teaches lessons galore, and class is not over.

  • We’ve learned a lot about learning itself. Recognizing that people were not likely to scroll through 25 pages of FAQs, the Virginia Department of Health turned to an interactive digital quiz on COVID-19 and promoted it via social media, radio and other earned media. The quiz has attracted two million test-takers and the completion rate topped 80% in February. Sabrina Sanchez explains it all in Campaign
  • We’ve learned that a worldwide pandemic of viral illness creates in its wake a pandemic of mental illness and struggle. Suicide, a leading cause of death in this country, is a cause for extra concern, especially among young adults and veterans. The VA is working to let people know that help is available.
  • We’ve learned that we can’t overlook the incidence of COVID-19 in children, adolescents and young adults. In Infectious Disease Advisor, Sweta Gupta cites CDC data and offers insights on what’s happening in those populations, noting that young adults in particular may be an important source of community transmission.
  • We’ve learned that vaccine hesitancy is not an impenetrable, immovable rock. A poll released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the “wait and see” group dropped from 31% in January to 22% in February and 17% in March. Meanwhile, 55% of Black adults have either been vaccinated or plan to do so, up from 41% a month ago. Overall, 13% still say they will definitely not get vaccinated, including about 30% of Republicans and white evangelicals.
  • MM+M reminds us that, while it is easy to paint the vaccine-reluctant with a broad brush, the reality is more nuanced and the brushstrokes more subtle. “We need empathy. And we need credible messengers; the ‘person with large and vocal Twitter following’ is less likely to win over the undecideds or actively skeptical than ‘community leader’ or ‘friend from the barbershop.’” 
  • We’ve learned that people can’t and shouldn’t be shamed into getting vaccinated, and we’re hoping that a dose of empathy for the undecided works best. We’ll find out. The Ad Council is partnering with ad tech companies Kinetiq, TVSquared, Upwave and Ace Metrix to measure the reach and effectiveness of its $50 million vaccine confidence campaign. Sabrina Sanchez has details in Campaign. 
  • Bruce Gellin, president of global immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, told the Washington Post that the vaccine-hesitant are thinking not so much about herd immunity as they are about their own individual situation. They want to know, “Are people like me taking this vaccine, and how are they doing?”
  • We’ve learned that the health disparities that predated the pandemic are reflected in disproportionate rates of COVID-19-related hospitalization and death among racial and ethnic minorities. The CDC is now tracking this data in detail and directing our ongoing attention to the social determinants of health, including lack of access to quality healthcare.
  • At TBWAWorldHealth, a campaign called #BlackHealthNow, established during Black History Month in February 2020 and still going strong, includes videos sharing “painful, personal and true stories from our colleagues as they discuss how being Black in America has impacted their access to quality healthcare.” 
  • We’ve learned that hate against Asian-Americans, much of it fueled by the pandemic, is more prevalent than we had realized. Clara Luo, a group director at VMLY&R, writes an open letter to the communications industry in Campaign and sets forth seven challenges to address.
  • Also in Campaign, Michelle Tang, chief marketing officer for Digitas North America, says, “We belong in the C-suite” and lists actions Asian Americans can take that “will help us push beyond the model minority stereotype.” PRWeek’s Steve Barrett also takes a hard look at injustices suffered by Asian colleagues and the remedies needed.
  • We’ve learned that podcasts will bloom and grow in pandemic soil. Lecia Bushak explores the phenomenon in MM+M, noting the success of Lilly’s Elixir Factor and explaining how Pfizer and J&J successfully pivoted existing podcasts to take on COVID-19 personas. And in a report from Advertiser Perceptions, based on interviews with 205 advertisers, 56% agreed that the pandemic has made podcast advertising more important and 63% listen to podcasts themselves at least once a week. Sabrina Sanchez shares the details in Campaign.
  • We’ve learned about a whole host of chronic illnesses and other conditions that put people at greater risk of COVID and its long list of poor outcomes. Obesity is one of them. Kristene Diggins explores the connections in The Clinical Advisor.

The Takeaway: Above all, we’ve learned that the virus is always ready to throw us a curve if we aren’t looking for it, as cases are now surging around the world once again.

Source: Getty

Where do we go from here?

In a way, every day is a test of our strength and resilience, our ability to cope and our capacity to hope.

  • One place we’re going from here is back to school, eventually. The U.S. Department of Education has its own “aggressive plan” to reopen schools safely and held a summit meeting on that topic a week ago. This is one area where you have to check your local listings on a weekly basis to find out when and where and how your child will be going to class. Parents in three New Jersey school districts have sued for a return to full-time in-person instruction, with one parent calling a year of remote instruction a debacle that has damaged young children’s academic, emotional, social and physical well-being.
  • If there’s one thing an otherwise divided Congress can agree on, it just might be how to prevent the next pandemic. Senators Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) have promised to work together. One helpful document is a 39-page white paper on preparing for the next encounter, a parting gift from retired Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee).
  • We need to rebuild trust in science, and not just to avert future pandemics, argues Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Historians, he says, will want to know if science was able to rebuild societal trust and defeat the coronavirus. “Or did a break in trust lead to a lingering pandemic that foreshadowed future failures to solve the coming crises of climate change, food and water insecurity, and economic stagnation?”

The Takeaway: If we didn’t get it right the first  time – a leading ethicist calls COVID “nothing short of the worst failure of public policy in modern memory” – let’s be sure to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time..

The resources

  • The FDA has set up an adverse events reporting dashboard for COVID-19 therapeutics, Brian Park reports in MPR. 
  • CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, offers a smorgasbord of regularly updated news and analysis pieces on COVID-19. Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, director of the Center and a member of the Biden COVID-19 transition team, offers his unique take in a series of podcasts and occasionally a live session with questions from listeners. 
  • The American Psychological Association offers a number of educational resources and tools on COVID-19 for psychologists, healthcare workers and the public, covering such topics as talking to teens about the pandemic, understanding pandemic-related stress, fine-tuning vaccine communication and building vaccine confidence through community engagement. 

The rest

  • After partnering with BioNTech on the first approved COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer is going to go it alone in pursuing the possibilities of mRNA technology in developing future vaccines. As Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said, “We have our own expertise developed.”
  • Zoom Video Communications is selling its videoconferencing technology to other companies; those companies would embed it in their own products and call it something other than Zoom. Annual sales quadrupled in 2020 to $2.65 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal, and revenues are forecasted to zoom another 41% this year.
  • Do facial hair and face masks go together? Believe it or not, the CDC has an infographic designed to be instructive for those who wear tight-fitting respirators. It was actually created pre-pandemic, in 2017. We’ll be the first to admit we had no idea there are 36 different styles of facial hair. Advice is also available for those wearing low-tech masks
  • As we head into the weekend of the Final Four for both men’s and women’s college basketball, it’s comforting to learn that watching sports on the tube is recognized as one of the more successful COVID coping mechanisms. In the Seton Hall Sports Poll, at least one in three viewers said armchair spectating has improved their mental health over the past year. Your own mental health at this one moment in time may be a direct reflection of the bustedness of your bracket.
  • By now you’ve probably heard about Volkswagen’s April Fools’ joke gone awry, sending out a press release announcing a name change to Voltswagen and putting it out there in the media for a good 24 hours before ‘fessing up. If we’re not mistaken, this is the same company that shelled out nearly $15 billion to settle claims from its diesel emissions cheating scandal five years ago. The irony is, Voltswagen is (or would have been) a pretty good name for a new fleet of electric cars.
  • April Fools’ Day hoaxes by newspapers have been around since at least the mid-1800s. More recently, April 1 has brought us breathless reports of Mickey Mantle’s imminent trade to the Los Angeles Angels and plans to move the Eiffel Tower to the Euro Disney theme park outside of Paris. Our favorite is “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch,” a story by George Plimpton that appeared in the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated. It told the tale of an oddball who could throw a fastball at 168 mph. Plimpton invested it with ludicrous credibility, which in his parlance is not an oxymoron. 

Parting shot

Wa’el Hashad, president and CEO of Avanir Pharmaceuticals, shares some thoughts around the topic of “what patients and caregivers have taught me” in McKnight’s Senior Living. The patients he’s referring to are people with Alzheimer’s dementia, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia and other CNS conditions. Here are his leadership lessons:

  • Connect with people, deeply and often. Throughout the pandemic, patients and caregivers have been empathetic and caring, constantly seeking new ways to stay connected and available to each other. “Now more than ever, we as business leaders must communicate our humanity as strongly as our numbers and our business strategies,” Hashad says. “We must be empathetic, caring and alert and we must communicate with employees openly and honestly.”
  • Practice acceptance. CNS patients and caregivers have learned to become experts in the fine art of adaptation and acceptance. Among other priorities, “It’s vital for us as leaders to accept the situations that our employees are experiencing in their new work and home life realities. We need to give people permission to come as they are… we must also accept that more employees will need access to mental health support.”
  • Become custodians of hope. “Caregivers and patients celebrate the small moments—a successful physical therapy session, a positive response to a new medicine,  or a happy birthday. Similarly, as leaders… we must keep hope in our minds and on our lips, ready to respond with solutions to whatever uncertainty COVID-19 places in front of us.”

…and some songs

The April Fools, Dionne Warwick

What a Fool Believes, Doobie Brothers

Poor Little Fool, Ricky Nelson

April Rain, Corey Glover

April in Paris, Billie Holiday

April Calendar Song for Kids, Jack Hartmann

10 Classical Concerts to Stream in April

Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll be back here next Wednesday with the Vaccine Project Newsletter; please be sure to join us. Have a blessed and peaceful holiday, be it Passover, Easter, Ramadan or any other you observe this time of year. Stay well.

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