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7 months into COVID crisis, ‘we’re not going back to normal,’ UW pandemic expert warns

Restaurants continue to require patrons to wear masks, and likely will for the foreseeable future. (Seattle-King County Public Health, Facebook)

Now seven months into responding to the COVID-19 crisis, there’s a good deal the United States has done right, as well as areas where the nation’s response efforts have been lacking. UW MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness Director Dr. Peter Rabinowitz stopped by KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to weigh in.

UW Dr. Rabinowitz: ‘We’re headed for the worst part of the epidemic’

With the United States cresting a grim 200,000 COVID death milestone this week, odds are that many of the new behaviors and restrictions people have had to adjust to are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

“There’s still an idea that we’re going to go back to normal — we’re not going back to normal,” Dr. Rabinowitz warned. “We’re not going back to the way life was before. It’s going to be different now, and that change is happening.”

Despite that, he also sees something of a silver lining in the way people have responded personally to the pandemic.

“I want to point out some positive things,” he noted. “To see that it’s actually possible for so many people to change behavior, and change lifestyles, work, and everything because of a disease has been just transformative.”

Beginning in March, there was a good deal of uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of certain mitigation efforts. Now that we have that data in hand, Dr. Rabinowitz believes it will only help improve our response to both COVID and any future pandemics.

Even so, holistically, the U.S. response has been lacking in its unity, especially measured against the rest of the world.

“There’s this incredible frustration that with all the effort that’s gone on both in Washington state and the United States, we as a nation just don’t look as good as other countries,” Dr. Rabinowitz pointed out. “We’ve obviously not created a national plan that has been as effective as other places.”

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The end result has been a combination of victories and failures for the United States in mitigating the spread of the virus.

“It’s that real mix of incredible pride and absolute amazement of what people can do, and then just the frustration that we can’t seem to get the job done effectively everywhere,” he described.

Rabinowitz expects the road ahead to be equally as challenging, particularly in getting a vaccine developed and then distributed to the people who need it most.

“That is just going to test us again,” he predicted. “Are we able to really care adequately for the people who need it the most? That’s going to be another test of national leadership and character.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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