On December 3rd, a Zoom meeting to discuss COVID-19 and Public Health was held through Zoom at 12 PM as part of the Conversations on Social Issues (COSI). The event featured Dr. Jay McLean-Riggs, a member of Biology faculty at the Seattle Central College. The event focused on exploring the relationship between COVID-19 and the understanding of public health in Washington and around the world.
Dr. McLean-Riggs began the conversation by updating participants on the situation of COVID-19 the day before: The United States topped 100,000 people hospitalized for COVID-19, the CDC announced that 90% of US hospitals are close to their maximum capacity, the current number of new cases and deaths, the United Kingdom’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine and the White House’s plannings for Christmas during the pandemic.
Moving on with the conversation, Dr. McLean-Riggs explained about the origins of COVID-19. The virus emerged in China, as their intermediate hosts were bats. This could be explained by China’s geographical area making it susceptible to pathogens. Furthermore, China has the highest biodiversity of bat populations, a known host for coronaviruses, the most recent of these being SARS and MERS.
After discovering the origins of COVD-19, Dr. McLean-Riggs then explained more about the characteristics of the virus. COVID-19 is a large enveloped virus with a single strand RNA genome. It is known to be highly adaptable to the environment depending on the temperature and humidity. Mainly transmitting through tiny aerosol particles which hang around in the air, this is why COVID-19 is very dangerous in indoor environments. The virus is robust, as it can easily infiltrate the human body and cause multi-organ failure in patients. With pre-existing conditions that patients may have, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, the effects of the virus worsens. Through the explanation of COVID-19, Dr. McLean-Riggs emphasized the importance of wearing masks, as it helps in trapping most of the particles that hang around in the air from being released.
Referring to the current situation in Washington state, Dr. McLean-Riggs mentioned the lack of leadership and how the state is doing poorly. In the state, 30% of the transmissions happened in gatherings within households. She also pointed out the fact that Washington has very little contact tracing because it has never been part of the response to COVID-19 in the United States. Even though Washington Health has released an app to monitor and help with COVID tracing, it is not having a positive result because of privacy concerns and contact tracing is a very difficult thing to do with the late response.
Despite having a late response that caused many issues, Dr. McLean-Riggs is confident that the current situation can be drastically improved. The United States has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, making it possible to take large-scale actions, which can improve the current response to COVID-19. There are already many good examples, she mentioned, that the US can use as references.
Dr. McLean-Riggs then talked about the COVID-19 vaccines, determining that the vaccine will be effective; however, it is not the solution for the long-term. Even though the vaccine has proven to be successful, it still has weak points such as having to be stored at a low temperature, making it harder to transport and have adequate storage to maintain the vaccine. Furthermore, she emphasized the importance of our precautions, especially when hospital capacities are soon to be overloaded.
Attendees were then divided into small breakout rooms to further discuss the effects of COVID-19 in their lives and prepare any questions they have. After returning to the main room and answering the participant’s questions, Dr. McLean-Riggs wrapped up the event by sharing a GIF of Pac-man Coronavirus, reminding us to stay safe and be healthy.