June 4, 2020: Public Health Update

From: Tom McLarney, MD

Subject: Public Health Update

Date: June 4, 2020

To the Wesleyan Community,

I hope this finds you safe and healthy. This past week, the impact of the pandemic has been overshadowed by the terrible news that is gripping our country. The senseless death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and so many others; the ugliness of racism; and the disregard for human life. We all need to do everything in our power to promote respect, kindness, and caring to all.

You may have seen other troubling headlines recently noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) surmises Covid-19 may be here to stay. This is bad news, but perhaps not as bad as it may sound. There are several other strains of coronavirus, which have been around for years causing seasonal upper respiratory symptoms (like the common cold). At present we are dealing with a mutated strain of the family of coronaviruses, to which none of us have had prior exposure and thus have not built immunity. With no vaccine and limited treatment options, we were all caught unprepared from an immunologic standpoint.

Time will settle this issue: Eventually we will become immune to this disease either by direct exposure or through an appropriate vaccine.  In order for the latter to work, the vaccine must be effective (remember that no vaccine is 100 percent effective), it must be available to all, and it must be used by most people (barring medical contraindications). Treatments will also evolve. Other viral illnesses that once wreaked havoc, such as measles, chicken pox, and HIV, are still among us but have been controlled to a large extent through vaccination or effective medications.

For now, we must remain vigilant and continue social distancing, use of face coverings, avoiding groups, and frequent hand washing. I am cautiously optimistic with the declining number of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths over the past several weeks in Connecticut.  Let’s continue to do what we need to do in order to allow the number of cases to shrink while our researchers work to develop vaccines and treatments.

Is this the new normal?  It is hard to say.  Life as we know it may be different and we will adjust, just as we did with more intensive airport screenings post-9/11. Life on college campuses will also continue to look different, and the Wesleyan administration is currently working through details for the fall, when our goal is to be open in some form, if possible.

Our leadership is looking at every possible scenario and the ramifications that come with each, with the goals of providing the best educational experience for our students while keeping all community members safe. Wesleyan and our peer schools have been in communication to work through best practices. There is also no ‘’one size fits all’’ plan so Wesleyan will chose the plan that best fits our unique situation.  The current climate of Covid-19, as well as recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Connecticut Department of Public Health, will also steer the University’s decision.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that we focus on some of the kindness that has come to light in the recent past.  These past few months have seen generous donations of food to those in need, drive-by parades to celebrate graduations and birthdays, the selfless work by healthcare professionals who risk their own lives to help others, and all the essential workers who are present day in and day out.  Even the folks we see on the street who say ‘’hi’’ with a smile in their eyes as we cannot see their mouths.

Finally, let me note that these updates will be delivered on alternating weeks for the summer.

Be well and show kindness in whatever way you can,

Tom McLarney, MD