COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Our Lives: A Year in Review!

Indu Gupta, MD, MPH

Indu Gupta, MD, MPH, MA, FACP, Onondaga County Health Commissioner

When I woke up on January 1, 2020, I never thought that we will be facing the global pandemic of our lifetime and I will be leading the public health response in Onondaga County as the Health Commissioner of the Onondaga County Health Department. Though our lives feel so far apart from those who live across the globe and even our next-door neighbors, this pandemic will teach us how intertwined our destinies are. It will take everyone working together in harmony if we want to stop the infection by the new strain of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

The year 2020 was full of contradictions: from misery and isolation, fears of the unknown and impending doom, death and despair, and the loss of jobs and homes, to triumphs of science and research and hope. It has been truly a whirlwind.

We in the Health Department have prepared ourselves by doing public health preparedness drills for several years; however, no one imagined the enormity and wrath of this pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, our public health response has been swift, data-driven, transparent, and measurable. Our multi-pronged approach of case investigation and contact tracing combined with testing was able to flatten the curve throughout the summer. With the opening of the community, we saw a second wave of infections, however, we did not see our hospital system getting overwhelmed due to thoughtful strategic planning of cancellation of elective surgeries and partnership in aggressive testing protocols so we can identify and isolate cases and quarantine their contacts. The goal was, and remains today, to take pre-emptive actions. The County Executive’s leadership in providing all the resources to control transmission of the virus by following science, data, and public health recommendations in Onondaga County is commendable. We discuss data and new evidence and make decisions to serve our community every day. From our report of the first case of COVID 19 infection on March 16, 2020, we have continued to do thorough case investigations and contact tracing with the recent count of more than 35,000 cases and more than 34,000 recovered. To date, we have lost 698 members of our community to the disease. Testing continues to be an important tool, from PCR testing available by lab to County-sponsored widely available antigen testing. We hope for home testing in the near future.

With the approval of the first vaccine, Pfizer, on December 11, 2020, followed by Moderna on December 18, 2020, and recently Janssen/Johnson & Johnson on February 27, 2021, we are at the final leg of our journey.  We continue to see many hiccups in the form of misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, in addition to the recent pause of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of a rare but serious side effect of blood clot and low platelet count known as thrombosis- thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). With the close monitoring of incoming data from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VARES), everyone should be reassured regarding decisions made by the FDA and CDC during the approval process of the vaccines. It should boost confidence in all the vaccines available in the United States. As of now, a little over 141 million Americans have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 93 million have been fully vaccinated. These numbers will continue to increase. As of April 22, I am very pleased to report that 200,506 Onondaga County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. In our Health Department clinics alone, we have vaccinated 52,027 individuals (first doses) and 43,367 individuals (second doses). I got my COVID 19 vaccine, did you get yours?

Interest in getting the COVID-19 vaccine has somewhat declined throughout the U.S., including in our community. New cases continue to emerge. With the 7-day average of 90-100 cases per day, we continue to have high community transmission. Despite these numbers, we continue to see no evidence of viral transmission in our schools. At this time, when we can see the finish line, we should put our full efforts to reach there by following all the public health principles of wearing a mask, keeping a physical distance of 6 feet, staying home when sick, getting tested, and importantly, getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Stay informed and engage others and help us improve the rates of vaccination in our community as all of us did during case investigation and testing efforts. Together we can put this pandemic behind us.

I will discuss COVID 19 vaccines next week. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I would ask you to tell us your thoughts about vaccines by taking this 5-minute survey.

Indu Gupta
April 27, 2021