WSU’s Dr. Guy Palmer, who has co-led and coordinated the university’s response to COVID-19, testified today before the Washington Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee on the lessons learned so far during the pandemic and those that are still being learned.
Chief among them is that local and county health departments lack resources necessary to handle the kind of surge brought on by a pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, many public heath offices across the state were minimally staffed and busy addressing the other health needs of their communities, Palmer told state senators.
“Certainty, if we don’t learn from the challenges we’ve undergone in the last two years and work to strengthen our health care systems, we’re making a grave mistake,” Palmer said.
The committee meeting was broadcast live on TVW. Public health officials from the state of Washington as well as the University of Washington presented to senators as part of the meeting.
Palmer, a WSU regents professor of pathology and infectious diseases who serves as senior director of Global Health for the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, discussed how center staff pivoted from their work on emerging diseases to respond to COVID-19. He was invited to testify by the committee chair.
To meet the challenges posed by the pandemic, WSU and its partners conducted more than 90,000 PCR tests in central and eastern Washington and stood up contact tracing efforts. Palmer also recounted the response to past pandemic-driven challenges, such as initial issues with vaccine storage, wastewater testing of K-12 schools and public health communication.
In responding to a question about communicating about vaccines to the general public, Palmer noted that a common misperception is that vaccines prevent all infections.
“We’ve put a pretty high expectation on vaccines,” Palmer said. “They don’t prevent 100% of infections. That’s not what we’re asking them to do. We’re asking them to keep you out of the hospital.”
Obtaining accurate data has proven to be important to understand the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to be vital for addressing future public health crisis, Palmer said. He also noted that while we’re learning more about immunity and variants, more study is needed to make conclusive statements about the future of COVID-19.