COMMENTARY – Goals hard to define when fighting COVID

COMMENTARY – As 2021 drew to a close, in a number of ways it felt as though we had all jumped into Dr. Brown’s DeLorean and were transported back to the end of 2020. With COVID cases increasing across the country, mostly due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, some of the restrictions we had hoped were gone forever have been revived.

Fairmont State University announced that it would not permit fans to attend sporting events for at least the first few weeks of January. Some school districts and college campuses around the country have started to revisit the idea of shifting to remote learning.

As the virus has evolved, our response to COVID has not kept pace partly because after almost three years we still can’t define the goal of such measures.

During an interview recently on WAJR’s Talk of the Town, Monongalia County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith asserted his belief that COVID is going to be part of life moving forward, whether we want it to be or not.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to see any end to COVID, that it’s just going to go away, like EBOLA. It will remain in the background and just spike here and there, but I think we have a lot of tools to effectively treat it,” Smith stated.

If the goal of having zero cases of COVID is impossible, as Dr. Smith’s statements indicate, how exactly do define which mitigation strategies are successful? According to Dr. Smith, the answer to that question has proved elusive.

“The medical community really hasn’t agreed upon a definition of ‘what’s success?’ Is it the number of deaths attributed to COVID? If that’s the case Monongalia County has done very well compared to other counties. If it’s the number of cases per population, we’ve done really well,” Dr. Smith explained.

“If you look at the numbers of who became hospitalized and died as a result of COVID out of the overall population, we have one of the best records in the state.”

Without a clearly stated goal, one can understand why so many people are exhausted from COVID and consistent pleas to take precautions and get vaccinated fall on deaf ears. Some will never be told what to do, others have done everything asked of them, yet can’t seem to reach the prize they were promised for their actions.

Three years into the pandemic, the situation has certainly improved. Vaccines are readily available for anyone who wants one, new treatments have been developed and many people have returned to a mostly normal existence.

However, we are still grappling with the most basic question of how will we know when we’ve beaten the virus or if that is even possible.