I heard on NPR, the other day that countries in Africa may not receive their coronavirus vaccination until 2022. Shortly after the discussion, I saw an image the made me numb. To be limited in resources can be so detrimental, not just for one country, but an entire continent. But here is the kicker, if Africa isn’t vaccinated, then the pandemic remains. It’s not an either, or option and for once, we have to be our brother’s keeper. Every country in the region needs vaccination so that the pandemic dissipates. It will require us all to scream as loud as we can so African countries are not left behind. With the vaccinations, keep Africa in mind.

Yesterday, my husband, a frontline healthcare worker got his covid19 vaccination. I was elated, emotional and happy for him and all healthcare workers who risked their lives throughout the pandemic to save lives often at the expense of their own life.

Just this fall, on two separate occasions, we had to go into quarantine due to my husband’s exposure to covid19. Every experience was debilitating as it was also occurring in the middle of homeschooling, in the middle of me teaching a class this fall, and yes in the middle of my maternity leave. Seeing him receive his shot was emotional and hopeful. Hopeful because we can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s still a long way to go, wearing masks of course, but the light is there. Hopeful, because although more than 300,000 lives paid the ultimate sacrifice, for them, and because of them, we get to live. Hopeful, because as family members of frontline health workers, we can begin to breathe easy now and not be afraid of another experience of exposure, even another bout of testing and waiting for result. The wait were so unbearable. Hopeful because this is science at it’s best. We are at our best when we work hard together and for that I am thankful to all those who worked tirelessly to bring these vaccines to life. I am also hopeful for a post pandemic future. But we have so much work to do if we are going to get to the bottom of why covid19 happened in the first place. I am hopeful for more beautiful questions that are sustainable and focused on predicting and preventing the next pandemics or even addressing all the systemic issues that were neglected during this pandemic, issues such as equity, and access, racism, identity, and poverty. For now, I’ll keep hope, even with this pandemic.

It seems so simple, that people should matter with efforts to curtail a pandemic. Yet we are our own worst enemies. Case in point, an essay I read yesterday on the blog sapiens one why the CDC needs social science. Robert Hahn an anthropologist and epidemiologist who recently retired from the CDC, shared insights of how people actual interact, their behaviors, needs and even concerns, have yet to penetrate the soul of the nation’s top primary health agency. And we wonder why we are in the mess we find ourselves?

As a public health researcher, why people refuse to wear mask for example, remains one of the public health mysteries of 2020, and one that truly lacks any answer besides the fact that we still don’t keep people in mind. Robert Hahn takes this a step further and offers another explanation. The idea that sickness remains a biological concept. As a result, how even sick people react, what behaviors they engage in even while sick is often an afterthought and not a forethought. It’s no surprise then, that this pandemic continues to persist, 10 months later.

I’ll like to add one more thought to his explanation and that is people should be at the heart of every response to public health, especially during and after a pandemic. We also need to do more polylogue or confront people with diverse and sometimes conflicting points of views that require critical evaluation. These forms of engagement with people will be crucial with efforts to ensure vaccine uptake. Myself and my household are ready for the vaccine. But I do recognize that some folks may not be and so it’s our duty to keep them in mind on the journey to end this pandemic for good.

When the history of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is written, what will those of us in public health note we accomplished? How would we present the success and failures with proactively maintaining measures such as wearing masks or practicing social distance or even avoiding large crowds?Where did we go wrong with taking care of the public’s health? How did the public not understand that ending the pandemic depended on us, you and me?

These questions trouble me as our nation recorded 184,000 new cases yesterday according to NPR. With more new cases, come deaths and the winter season has not fully begun. At the present time, it remains that all our pleas to practice basic public health measures is wasted. All the valuable advice and even education presented about the virus by key experts are unknown or unheeded and therefore not utilized by the public. The next couple of months is perhaps the most difficult that the public will experience with a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, respects no authority, and inflicts more harm than good. Not to heed the public health’s simple and clear messages, like wear a mask, or practice social distance, is equivalent to stepping backwards or rounding the corner to the beginning of the pandemic. We keep rounding the corner to the start of the pandemic and frankly, I am tired. With more cases, come more deaths? Whom shall we blame? Ourselves?

The public’s health is very fragile now. Do your part to actually end the pandemic by heeding the advice from public health leaders. Let it not be known, that your loved one tested positive or even died. Ignorance to public health, whether a blessing or a curse is real. Whatever your disposition today, know the virus has its own agenda and doesn’t care about yours. The next couple of months are indeed critical and for the public’s health, it will depend on you and me.

In March 1919, as the nation continued to grapple with the 1918 influenza pandemic, Dr. Wilmer Krusen, the Commissioner of Health and Charities of Philadelphia presented a truth to the people of his municipality. Simply put, it stated ‘Spit spreads Death.’ The statement was displayed as a poster on the front of trolley cars and the Commissioner used them to impress on people, ‘the exceedingly important lesson in sanitation and health.’ This striking way of presenting the truth to the public was common during the pandemic of 1918. In 2020, from the beginning of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, has been withheld from the public.

March 1919, AJPH 9(3) 207

Six months into the pandemic, we are still far from presenting truths to the public and its starts from the leadership in place. If only they started from the beginning with the following: ‘Covid is real. It can affect anyone. It is not a hoax. Anyone can get sick. Test. Quarantine or isolate. Social Distance. Stay six feet away. Wear a mask. Wear a Damn Mask. Wash your hands. Contact Trace.’ Simple truths like this, presented to people, from the beginning, could have averted 209,000 deaths. Simple truths could have prevented 7million infections. Simple truths could have helped my children return to school. Simple truths would enable us go to church on Sundays. Simple truths would have meant we all return back to some form of normalcy, wearing a mask of course. Every infection is a sad one. Every infection is a tragedy. Every infection can be prevented. Every death could have been avoided. Mask, distance, trace, simple truths that matter. Simple truths that should have be presented from the beginning at the highest levels.

Simple truths: Wear a damn mask!

So at this point, I am ready for change and yes my life depends on it. My family, our well-being, all that we love, depends on it. We want simple truths from our leaders. We want leadership that believes in science, leadership that believes in public health, leadership that puts the lives of people first and not their own interests, leadership that cares, leaderships that unites, leadership that brings calm, leadership that represents the best of who we are as humans, leadership that quite frankly, tells the truth!