COVID: What comes next - With Dr. Ashish JhaCOVID: What comes next - With Dr. Ashish Jha

Welcome to Episode 41 of “COVID: What comes next,” an exclusive weekly Providence Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK podcast featuring Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and an internationally respected expert on pandemic response and preparedness

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COVID: What comes next - With Dr. Ashish Jha

Long before COVID, Dr. Ashish Jha was an internationally respected expert on pandemic response and preparedness. In September 2020, Jha left his posit 
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PROVIDENCE – The numbers indicate that the latest COVID surge has peaked, according to pandemic expert Dr. Ashish Jha, and while the next couple of weeks “are the critical time,” the nation as a whole can expect a better February than this January, when the Delta and omicron variants have combined to deal a coast-to-coast punishing blow. 

Looking further ahead, Jha foresees the likely emergence of more variants but maintains that the country has the tools needed to protect health. And Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said most experts believe COVID will become “a seasonal virus” enabling people to move mindsets away from the crisis mode of the last nearly two years and into a less stressful mentaility. 

“So here we are on January 20th recording this and the good news is that the national surge has peaked,” Jha said Thursday during recording of the latest “COVID: What Comes Next” podcast. “I think the peak number was probably sometime in the last couple of days and we are going to see what I hope is a rapid decline down.” 

Geographical differences remain, however, Jha said. 

“Let me put some caveats on it,” he said. “Some places like Rhode Island probably peaked about a week ago. But lots of other places in America have not peaked yet… But nationally, I think we have peaked and we are starting our descent. To be clear, there are a lot of infections ahead. If you think about a peak, you're going to get as many people infected on the downturn as you did on the way up.   

“So if you've not gotten infected yet, consider yourself lucky and be really careful for the next couple of weeks because I think the next couple of weeks are the critical time. My guess is after that it's going to really get down to pretty low numbers… the good news is we can see the end of this surge in front of us.” 

Jha said now is the time to prepare for possible new variants. 

“Once we get out of this surge and life begins to return more to a normal phase with low infection numbers and high vaccination rates, especially here in New England, we’ve got to start preparing like crazy for the next surge,” Jha said. “I don't know if it's going to come. I don't know when it's going to come. I don't know what the variant will be. I don't know where it'll begin, just like none of us predicted omicron specifically.” 

But, the physician said, “we should assume that we're going to have more variants… so when it hits we're going to be ready to go. There's a whole series of things that need to be done: Plenty of testing, plenty of masks, making sure that we continue plugging away on vaccinations. All these things will help us be ready.” 

Jha does not expect COVID to disappear, but with the passage of time, its presence will be experienced differently, he asserted. 

“Most of us believe this will eventually become much more of a seasonal virus,” Jha said. “I don't know that we're ready to quite declare victory and call it a seasonal virus yet, and so for the next year or two I suspect we're going to have to continue managing this in a very aggressive way and knowing that we can get outbreaks at any time. 

“That said, that shouldn't scare people. We have to do a mental shift away from thinking about this as an acute pandemic -- where ‘my God, it dominates our lives, my God we've got to think about COVID and talk about COVID all the time' -- toward a new mental model where, ‘yeah, it's around; yeah, it's going to be a problem; yeah, we need to deal with it, but we have all the tools and it's not going to disrupt our lives the same way.’ ” 



This is the 41st episode of the “COVID: What Comes Next” podcast, begun in October 2020 and available exclusively from The Providence Journal and the USA TODAY NETWORK. It is hosted by Providence Journal health reporter G. Wayne Miller, who has covered the pandemic since January 2020.

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COVID: What comes next - With Dr. Ashish Jha

Long before COVID, Dr. Ashish Jha was an internationally respected expert on pandemic response and p 
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