While COVID-19’s effects on the lungs and respiratory system are well known, there is growing research suggesting that the virus is also affecting the heart, with potentially lasting effects.
In a presentation at the annual meeting of the Biophysical Society, an international biophysics scientific group, Dr. Andrew Marks, chair of the department of physiology at Columbia University, and his colleagues reported on changes in the heart tissue of COVID-19 patients who had died from the disease, some of whom also had a history of heart conditions.
The team conducted autopsy analyses and found a range of abnormalities, particularly in the way heart cells regulate calcium. All muscles, including those in the heart, rely on calcium to contract. Muscle cells store calcium and open special channels inside of cells to release it when needed. In some conditions such as heart failure, the channel remains open in a desperate attempt to help the heart muscle contract more actively.
The leaking of calcium ultimately depletes the calcium stores, weakening the muscle in the end. “We found evidence, in the hearts of COVID-19 patients, abnormalities in the way calcium is handled,” says Marks. In fact, when it came to their calcium systems, the heart tissue of these 10 people who had died of COVID-19 looked very similar to that of people with heart failure.
Marks plans to further explore the heart changes that SARS-CoV-2 might cause by studying how the infection affects the hearts of mice and hamsters. He intends to measure changes in immune cells as well as any alterations in heart function in the animals both while they are infected and after they have recovered in order to document any lingering effects.
“The data we present show that there are dramatic changes in the heart,” Marks says. “The precise cause and long term consequences of those need to be studied more.” Previous studies have revealed a link between COVID-19 infections and heart-related problems. A large 2022 analysis of patients in the VA system—some of whom had recovered from COVID-19 and others who had never been diagnosed—showed those who had had COVID-19 had higher rates of a number of heart-related risks, including irregular heartbeats heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Susan Cheng, chair of women’s cardiovascular health and population science at Cedars-Sinai, is studying whether there are any associations between rates of heart attacks and surges of COVID-19 infections, in order to better understand how the virus might be affecting the heart.
There is also early evidence showing that people with hypertension may be at higher risk of heart events when they get COVID-19. What connects the viral infection to the heart isn’t known yet, but the body’s immune system is likely a major contributor.
“It’s been well documented that with SARS-CoV-2, the body responds with an inflammatory response that involves activating the immune system in a very dramatic way,” says Marks. “In the heart, it looks like the same inflammatory process is activating pathways that could be detrimental to heart function.” But more research needs to clarify that process, says Dr. Mariell Jessup, chief science and medical officer at the American Heart Association.
“If the assumption is that the infection causes inflammation, and the assumption is that the inflammation is precipitating more cardiovascular events, then how is it doing that?” It’s also possible that viruses can infect and adversely affect heart cells. “We’re still at the tip of the iceberg with respect to understanding how COVID-19 affects health,” says Cheng.
Marks is hoping to get some of those answers with the animal experiments he plans to conduct. “We hope to optimize the animal model to best reflect what we think is going on in patients,” he says. “We want to study at a very, very detailed level what happens in the heart when the virus infects an animal.”
Ultimately, that knowledge will help to better treat people who might be at higher risk of heart-related problems from COVID-19, which could in turn reduce hospitalizations and deaths from the disease. Marks has already developed a potential drug that can address the leaking calcium if that proves to be a problem with COVID-19; he is ready and eager to test it if his animal studies justify the experiments.
Until more definitive studies clarify how the COVID-19 virus is affecting the heart, Jessup says she would advise her patients to “control the things we know how to control,” such as the risk factors that might put them at higher risk of heart disease to begin with, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
And with more data emerging, if people are getting repeat COVID-19 infections, it’s also probably worth seeing their doctor to get their heart disease risk factors checked as well. “We spend a lot of time telling people they should get vaccinated,” she says. “For people who have had COVID-19, we should also be making sure they know their heart numbers and make sure they know blood pressure. “We know how to prevent heart disease, so let’s do the things we know how to do.”
One in eight American adults play the lottery at least once a week, and almost half buy at least one ticket a year. Unfortunately, even if you bought your annual ticket sometime in the last few days, that winner is probably not going to be you—unless you happen to be that lucky Illinoisan. Maybe that’s okay, you tell yourself. Don’t lottery winners end up broke and miserable? It would be great to be rich, but I don’t need $1.1 billion.
Except most lottery winners do not wind up broke, or miserable, or bankrupt. Stories about regretful lottery winners are trotted out whenever jackpots get big. But as much as jealous losing bettors might want to think that winners’ unfathomably good luck is balanced out by bad, most people who strike it rich this way settle into lives of quiet, comfortable anonymity.
And yet, the myth of the miserable lottery winner persists. The history of this myth reveals a longstanding national discomfort with gambling, and exposes deep-seated cultural beliefs about the connection between wealth, work, and merit.
In the United States, media coverage of lottery winners is nearly as old as lotteries themselves. The first American lotteries were held in the 17th century to raise funds for colonial infrastructure projects. Lotteries appealed to gamblers at the time for many of the same reasons they are popular today: they offered a chance to dream of instant affluence, and provided a rare opportunity for the poor to hit it big.
But starting in the colonial period, a specific genre of human-interest story became widespread: lottery winners who wound up broke, beleaguered, or worse. From the 18th through the 20th century, newspapers in the United States recounted the misfortunes of lottery winners from across the globe: A baker and his pregnant wife murdered for his winnings by an employee (Paris, France, 1765). A squandered jackpot invested in a failed shipping venture (Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1883). A winner dying of a heart attack immediately upon hearing news of his windfall (Bilbao, Spain, 1934).
These stories remained common as states began legalizing lotteries in the 1960s and 1970s. With so many lottery prizes being handed out—and so many winners’ stories to choose from—journalists began to frame miserable lottery winners not as unique curiosities, but as a trend. Jackpots at the time were small, and some winners reported being hounded for money from strangers and family members.
Partly due to the federal government’s semi-adversarial approach to state-run gambling, many also faced problems with the IRS. University of Buffalo sociologist H. Roy Kaplan interviewed around 100 early lottery winners in the mid-1970s and found most of them happy, despite these challenges. Nonetheless, a narrative was born. “Instant millionaires: Dream becomes nightmare for some,” one 1976 headline noted. “Million-dollar winners find reasons to cry in their champagne,” read another.
The myth has been with us ever since. With the rise of rollover jackpot games in the 1980s, prizes got a lot bigger, and the tragedies suffered by some winners became even more dramatic: Jack Whittaker, a West Virginia man, won $314.9 million in 2002. He was robbed multiple times and lost a granddaughter to a drug overdose, an event he blamed on the windfall. Abraham Shakespeare was killed by an acquaintance three years after winning $30 million in 2006.
William Post won $16.2 million in 1988 and spent lavishly. He quickly faced legal troubles, and his brother tried to hire someone to kill him and his sixth wife. Post died broke in 2006. A headline from the satirical website The Onion, the day after a record-breaking 2012 jackpot, captured the prevailing wisdom about lucky lottery players: “Powerball Winners Already Divorced, Bankrupt.”
But unlucky winners like Post, Whittaker, and Shakespeare are the exception, not the rule. Their stories are repeated so often not because they are representative but because they are some of only a few examples of regretful winners. The vast majority of jackpot recipients collect their novelty checks at press conferences and are never heard from again.
The non-miserableness of lottery winners is borne out by studies from across the globe. Research into winners in Germany, Singapore, and Britain found that winning the lottery does, in fact, make people happier, and a 2004 study found that 85.5 percent of winners in Ohio kept working, a sign of how many carried on with their normal, pre-jackpot lives. A commonly cited statistic about the percentage of lottery windfall recipients who wind up bankrupt—often attributed to the National Endowment for Financial Education—was refuted by the organization in 2018. Money, it seems, really can buy happiness.
And yet, the myth endures. Stories about the lottery winner “curse” are deployed whenever jackpots approach the billion-dollar mark. Though he won his jackpot 34 years ago, William Post’s story was retold in a Washington Post article just last week, under the headline “s Mega Millions hits $1 billion, winning doesn’t mean a happy ending.” Why, despite all the available evidence, does the myth persist? What does it mean that this narrative is believed so widely?
Gambling has long been an alternative form of upward mobility in the United States. For anyone who could not or would not climb the traditional class ladder—or who faced discrimination in the mainstream economy—lotteries offered a seemingly fair shot at the American Dream. Especially over the last forty years, as economic opportunity has dried up or became concentrated in certain pockets of the country, lotteries have served as an important means of trying for a new life.
But Americans’ enduring love of gambling has long been in conflict with an important element of the nation’s mythology: that the United State is a meritocracy founded on hard work, a place where the smart, the savvy, and the deserving rise to the top, no matter their background. The implication of this ethos is that hard work always yields a just reward. By design, the meritocracy leaves little room for chance.
In this context, the tale of the miserable winner is less a human-interest tabloid tale and more a moralizing lesson about wealth, merit, and class mobility.
All of these stories bear a single message: it is not healthy to win a windfall. The implication is that if someone won money through gambling, they had somehow violated the natural order of the universe and would inevitably suffer a comeuppance to restore things to their proper place.
The myth reinforces the supposed direct connection between work and merit. Because these winners lost it all, their stories suggest that if they had worked for their fortune, they would have truly deserved it. And anyone who deserves a fortune would know how to live with it, and such a fate would not befall them.
The tale of the regretful winner seems to confirm that a society built on luck is dangerous, even for the very lucky.
The myth, then, is not just an outdated and factually inaccurate narrative. It is a story that reinforces the idea that hard work always and automatically earns just rewards. And it disparages anyone who reasons that it is worth their while to search for an alternative route to the American Dream.
So lottery fans across the country can play with confidence, and can buy a lottery ticket (or five) when a jackpot like Friday night’s is in the offing, secure in the knowledge that a windfall is unlikely to invite a life of pain, suffering, and regret. The bad news, of course, is that they still face nearly impossible odds of winning. But American gamblers have faced long odds for centuries, and it should not be surprising that so many are so eager for a chance to test their luck.
Even dim light can disrupt sleep, raising the risk of serious health issues in older adults, a new study found. Dogs and cats who share their human’s bed tend to have a “higher trust level and a tighter bond with the humans that are in their lives. It’s a big display of trust on their part,” Varble said.
Sleep myths that may be keeping you from a good night’s rest. “Exposure to any amount of light during the sleep period was correlated with the higher prevalence of diabetes, obesity and hypertension in both older men and women,” senior author Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told CNN.
“People should do their best to avoid or minimize the amount of light they are exposed to during sleep,” she added. A study published earlier this year by Zee and her team examined the role of light in sleep for healthy adults in their 20s. Sleeping for only one night with a dim light, such as a TV set with the sound off, raised the blood sugar and heart rate of the young people during the sleep lab experiment.
An elevated heart rate at night has been shown in prior studies to be a risk factor for future heart disease and early death, while higher blood sugar levels are a sign of insulin resistance, which can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes. The dim light entered the eyelids and disrupted sleep in the young adults despite the fact that participants slept with their eyes closed, Zee said. Yet even that tiny amount of light created a deficit of slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep, the stages of slumber in which most cellular renewal occurs, she said.
The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Sleep, focused on seniors who “already are at higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said coauthor Dr. Minjee Kim, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement. “We wanted to see if there was a difference in frequencies of these diseases related to light exposure at night,” Kim said. Instead of pulling people into a sleep lab, the new study used a real-world setting.
Researchers gave 552 men and women between the ages of 63 and 84 an actigraph, a small device worn like a wristwatch that measures sleep cycles, average movement and light exposure. We’re actually measuring the amount of light the person is exposed to with a sensor on their body and comparing that to their sleep and wake activity over a 24-hour period,” Zee said. “What I think is different and notable in our study is that we have really objective data with this method.”
Fewer than half of the adults in the study got five hours of darkness at night. Zee and her team said they were surprised to find that fewer than half of the men and women in the study consistently slept in darkness for at least five hours each day. “More than 53% or so had some light during the night in the room,” she said. “In a secondary analysis, we found those who had higher amounts of light at night were also the most likely to have diabetes, obesity or hypertension.” In addition, Zee said, people who slept with higher levels of light were more likely to go to bed later and get up later, and “we know late sleepers tend to also have a higher risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.”
What to do
Strategies for reducing light levels at night include positioning your bed away from windows or using light-blocking window shades. Don’t charge laptops and cellphones in your bedroom where melatonin-altering blue light can disrupt your sleep. If low levels of light persist, try a sleep mask to shelter your eyes. Using melatonin for sleep is on the rise, study says, despite potential health harms. If you have to get up, don’t turn on lights if you don’t have to, Zee advised. If you do, keep them as dim as possible and illuminated only for brief periods of time.
Older adults often have to get up at night to visit the bathroom, due to health issues or side effects from medications, Zee said, so advising that age group to turn out all lights might put them at risk of falling. In that case, consider using nightlights positioned very low to the ground, and choose lights with an amber or red color. That spectrum of light has a longer wavelength, and is less intrusive and disruptive to our circadian rhythm, or body clock, than shorter wavelengths such as blue light.
Heart rate increases in light room, and body can’t rest properly
We showed your heart rate increases when you sleep in a moderately lit room,” said Daniela Grimaldi, MD, PhD, co-first author of the study and a research assistant professor of Neurology in the Division of Sleep Medicine. “Even though you are asleep, your autonomic nervous system is activated. That’s bad. Usually, your heart rate together with other cardiovascular parameters are lower at night and higher during the day.”
There are sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that regulate our physiology during the day and night. Sympathetic takes charge during the day and parasympathetic is supposed to control physiology at night, when it conveys restoration to the entire body.
How nighttime light during sleep can lead to diabetes and obesity
Investigators found insulin resistance occurred the morning after people slept in a light room. Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar goes up. An earlier study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at a large population of healthy people who had exposure to light during sleep. They were more overweight and obese, Zee said.
“Now we are showing a mechanism that might be fundamental to explain why this happens. We show it’s affecting your ability to regulate glucose,” Zee said. The participants in the study weren’t aware of the biological changes in their bodies at night. “But the brain senses it,” Grimaldi said. “It acts like the brain of somebody whose sleep is light and fragmented. The sleep physiology is not resting the way it’s supposed to.”
Exposure to artificial light at night during sleep is common
Exposure to artificial light at night during sleep is common, either from indoor light emitting devices or from sources outside the home, particularly in large urban areas. A significant proportion of individuals (up to 40 percent) sleep with a bedside lamp on or with a light on in the bedroom, or keep a television on.
Light and its relationship to health is double edged.
“In addition to sleep, nutrition and exercise, light exposure during the daytime is an important factor for health, but during the night we show that even modest intensity of light can impair measures of heart and endocrine health,” Zee said. The study tested the effect of sleeping with 100 lux (moderate light) compared to 3 lux (dim light) in participants over a single night. The investigators discovered that moderate light exposure caused the body to go into a higher alert state.
In this state, the heart rate increases as well as the force with which the heart contracts and the rate of how fast the blood is conducted to your blood vessels for oxygenated blood flow.
Zee’s top tips for reducing light during sleep
Don’t turn lights on. If you need to have a light on (which older adults may want for safety), make it a dim light that is closer to the floor.
Color is important. Amber or a red or orange light is less stimulating for the brain. Don’t use white or blue light and keep it far away from the sleeping person.
Blackout shades or eye masks are good if you can’t control the outdoor light. Move your bed so the outdoor light isn’t shining on your face.
Shortness of breath may be a sign of heart attack and lead to less survival than those with typical symptoms of chest pain, according to a study.
The researchers from Braga Hospital in Portugal, showed that just 76 per cent of heart attack patients with dyspnoea or fatigue as their main symptom are alive at one year compared to 94 per cent of those with chest pain as the predominant feature.
“Patients presenting with shortness of breath or fatigue had a worse prognosis than those with chest pain. They were less likely to be alive one year after their heart attack and also less likely to stay out of hospital for heart problems during that 12-month period,” said Dr. Paulo Medeiros from the Hospital.
“Dyspnoea and extreme tiredness were more common heart attack symptoms in women, older people and patients with other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and lung disease,” Medeiros added.
Chest pain is the hallmark presentation of myocardial infarction but other complaints such as shortness of breath, upper abdominal or neck pain, or transient loss of consciousness (blackouts) may be the reason to attend the emergency department.
The study focused on non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), a type of heart attack in which an artery supplying blood to the heart becomes partially blocked.
The study included 4,726 patients aged 18 years and older admitted with NSTEMI between October 2010 and September 2019.
Patients were divided into three groups according to their main symptom at presentation. Chest pain was the most common presenting symptom (4,313 patients; 91 per cent), followed by dyspnoea/fatigue (332 patients; 7 per cent) and syncope (81 patients; 2 per cent). Syncope is a temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure.
Patients with dyspnoea/fatigue were significantly older than those in the other two groups, with an average age of 75 years compared with 68 years in the chest pain group and 74 years in the syncope group.
Those with dyspnoea/fatigue were also more commonly women (42 per cent) compared to patients with chest pain as the main symptom (29 per cent women) or syncope (37 per cent women).
Compared to the other two groups, patients with dyspnoea/fatigue as their main symptom were more likely to also have high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“This study highlights the need to consider a diagnosis of myocardial infarction even when the primary complaint is not chest pain. In addition to the classic heart attack symptom of chest pain, pressure, or heaviness radiating to one or both arms, the neck or jaw, people should seek urgent medical help if they experience prolonged shortness of breath,” Medeiros said.
It was March 2020 when the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic hit home in the U.S. When the NBA suspended its season, it seemed to give permission for other closures and stay-at-home orders, and they quickly followed. At that point, there had only been around 3,000 confirmed cases of the disease and about 60 confirmed Covid deaths.
Fast-forward two years, and the numbers are staggering. According to estimates from Johns Hopkins University, as of Wednesday there have been over 79 million confirmed Covid cases and over 960,000 deaths. Several million have been hospitalized and millions more have reported symptoms that linger for weeks or even months, with unknown consequences moving into the future.
“It’s massively higher than I thought,” says Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “Particularly when in November 2020 the announcement came out that we had a vaccine that was 95% effective.”
Amanda Castel, a professor of epidemiology at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said in an email that she’s also surprised that the pandemic is still going, compared to her initial expectation. “In retrospect, I think I was hopeful that it would be more self-limited, like the SARS pandemic.”
The worst of the pandemic is behind us, experts told Forbes, in part because the first two years provided valuable tools for the continued fight against both Covid and future disease epidemics. Ignoring the pandemic in lower-income countries, they say, could mean new variants making their way back to the U.S.
One lesson the experts didn’t expect to learn was how polarizing the response to the pandemic could be, especially as time went on. “I was surprised and alarmed to see how politically polarized Covid-19 responses have become, with some U.S. states (most recently Florida) promoting public health policies that directly oppose the science (and common sense),” Steffanie Strathdee, associate dean of global health sciences at the University of California, San Diego, said in an email.
The depth and intensity of political anger against public health officials was also jarring, says Castel. “To think that many public health leaders at the local, state and national level received death threats and lawsuits because of the evidence-based guidance they issued is appalling.”
“It’s tragic, because the outcomes of that were that hundreds of thousands of people died, who would not have died, if the response had been less political and more governed by the best science,” Wachter adds.
Wachter also says it’s hard to fathom the size of anti-vaccine sentiment based on what things looked like before the pandemic. “The anti-vax movement was previously pretty small and fringe,” he says. “And it was as likely to come from the left as the right—maybe even more likely to come from the left.”
The worst of the pandemic is (probably) behind us
“Years three and four will, hopefully, see a transition of Covid-19 from an emergent condition to an ongoing public health challenge with significantly less morbidity and mortality,” Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor for the Bipartisan Policy Center, says in an email. But not if it’s left to itself, he’s quick to add. “This would require easy access to prevention, testing and treatment.”
“I think the likeliest path will be a version of where we are now,” says Wachter. “With small surges that will not be overwhelming and be regional, partly related to seasonality, maybe partly related to vaccine status in different regions.”
The biggest unknown about this prediction, of course, is whether a new Covid variant emerges, which Strathdee warns is an increased risk if high-income countries choose to ignore the pandemic in the rest of the world. “If we don’t ensure that new medical advances such as vaccines and therapeutics reach the lower- and middle-income countries, new variants will emerge that threaten us all.”
Long Covid will have a potentially long impact
A potentially bigger challenge than surges of new infections in pandemic year three, says Wachter, are the still mostly unknown impacts of long Covid. If it turns out that, as some preliminary estimates suggest, as many as 10% to 20% of people experience lingering symptoms, “that’s tens of millions of people, and that’ll have an impact on the workforce and that’ll have an impact on economic performance.”
Long Covid will take a potential toll on the healthcare system as well, adds Castel. “Until we learn more about how to prevent and treat long Covid, we can anticipate a large burden on the healthcare system for the near future.”
“The high prevalence of long Covid stands to cause significant disability,” Strathdee says. “which affects both mental and physical health, including quality of life. I don’t think we’ve got a good handle yet on how big this problem may be.”
One major concern, says Wachter, is that unlike most respiratory diseases, early studies are warning that Covid may cause long-term health problems. A recent study said that people with even mild Covid showed more incidents of brain damage compared with those uninfected. Another finding: People infected with Covid have higher rates of heart attack and strokes. “If that turns out to be real, you’re talking about a new risk factor in almost 40% of the population,” he says. “A risk factor that may be as potent, as if people have high blood pressure or if they smoke. And that’s a very big deal.”
The tool kit for the next disease surge
Health experts agree that Covid-19 is likely to be around for a long time, and it’s also not going to be the last pandemic. The past two years, they say, have provided a lot of insight into what needs to be done to prepare for the next deadly disease surge.
When it comes to respiratory viruses like Covid, “We need to keep good-fitting N95 face masks, HEPA filters and good old soap and water,” says Strathdee.
“Masks should have been consistently recommended early on in the pandemic, as other countries did,” Parekh agrees. Castel concurs. “Masks are simple to use, relatively easy to obtain, and have proven to be effective in both protecting the wearer and those around them.”
Another key tool for combating future epidemics is testing, Wachter says. “We clearly made a terrible error early on in not working hard to get good tests out there more quickly,” he says. “And particularly, I think we were very late on home testing, both developing them and distributing them.”
One crucial factor that emerged to combat Covid, says Esther Krofah, executive director of FasterCures and the Center for Public Health at the Milken Institute, was research collaboration between scientists, companies and governments to produce vaccines and therapeutics quickly. That’s something she hopes doesn’t go away. “We need to ensure we build sustainable infrastructure to continue such collaboration,” she says, “and move forward efforts to change the culture in medical research to align with the urgent needs of patients.”
Experts do suggest rethinking one of the most contentious aspects of the pandemic response: school closures. “One of the real lessons learned is the negative impact of school closures on kids,” says Wachter. “And I think it will influence our response the next time.”
“Virtual schooling, while necessary intermittently, will need to be more closely considered in the future taking into account the virus’ epidemiology, risk to students and staff, and considerations for childcare/parental workforce,” says Parekh.
Hospitals need to be better prepared for future surges
Covid-19 hit hospitals extremely hard, overworking doctors and nurses to the point of burnout during pandemic surges, as intensive care units and other departments were pushed to capacity and beyond. This means that hospitals will need to work on building their surge capacity, experts say.
“Stockpiling and distributing critical medical material, deploying surge medical staff and ensuring that healthcare systems through federal grants are exercising their response plans are all critical,” Parekh says.
A major challenge for hospitals, says Wachter, will be getting extra capacity in place without breaking the bank. “Nobody’s going to be able to afford to keep a lot of excess bed capacity available, or a lot of excess nursing and doctor capacity,” he says. However, what hospitals can do is better stockpile equipment and protective clothing for healthcare workers. “The things that are not wildly expensive but you do want to have in the basement.”
In addition to better preparing for surges, hospitals also need to be better at identifying threats early so public health measures can be put in place, says Strathdee. “Public health departments and hospitals need to be better equipped to conduct surveillance, which includes systems for timely reporting.”
Castel encourages closer communication between hospitals and public health officials. “Hospitals are often sentinel sites and the first place that persons infected with these illnesses seek care, therefore they must have the capacity to work closely with public health to assist in the timely detection of emerging infectious diseases.”
Rebuilding trust and fighting apathy is critical
“An effective response to a pandemic requires three things: political leadership, national unity and timely resources,” says Parekh. Those first two have been hard to come by since 2020, with one expert confiding to Forbes their concern that political polarization “has significantly impaired the ability of public health authorities to enact countermeasures in the future.”
Another challenge that health experts have seen during the course of the pandemic isn’t just politics but also apathy. “On May 24, 2020, the New York Times covered its whole front page with a story headlined: ‘U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss.’ It listed names of the dead, as the paper did after 9/11. In December 2020, shortly before vaccines became available, we approached 300,000 dead, though the Times did not (and still has not) run a similar story,” Krofah says. “I’m afraid we have become numb to these numbers.”
Wachter notes that if a new surge of Covid comes in the next few months, it may be hard to galvanize a public response. “Everybody is so cognitively over this,” he says. “And the idea that you would have to hunker down again? It’s going to be awfully hard to convince people to do that.”
Other experts agree that separating politics from public health is going to be essential in order to move forward in combating future epidemics. A crucial aspect of that is rebuilding trust in institutions, repaid in kind with clear communication rooted in science. But it’s also, several say, something that has to happen between people’s everyday interactions with each other.
For Castel, what’s needed is that sense of community seen early in the pandemic when “neighbors volunteered to help older, more vulnerable people get groceries, or to make masks, or to donate food to overworked medical personnel,” she says. “Without this sense of community, we would not be where we are today and I can only hope that if faced with another pandemic, that we would all come together again in a united effort to protect and support each other. “