Opinion: Close public health infrastructure gaps before next pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed holes in the U.S. public health infrastructure, particularly the lack of mechanisms to generate, collect, analyze, and compare data, according to experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a September 24, 2020 Washington Post op-ed, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics (CCDD), and Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and a CCDD faculty member, wrote that testing shortages and inflexible and outdated surveillance systems have hampered efforts to control disease spread. They said that lack of sufficient information about where transmission is occurring makes it difficult to determine which areas can safely reopen or where prevention measures need strengthening.

The authors called for investment in nontraditional sources of data, such as tracking people’s mobility through cell phones to see how people respond to lockdowns, measuring viral RNA from the coronavirus in sewage, and predicting epidemic trends through analysis of Internet searches. Other worthy ideas include large-scale serological surveillance to track disease and the creation of a national pandemic forecasting center, they wrote.

Improvements in tracking and managing COVID-19 “would aid in fighting the current pandemic, and they will be essential weapons against future pandemics and other major health threats, such as antimicrobial resistance, that will still loom when the world emerges from covid-19,” the authors wrote.

Read the Washington Post op-ed: How to fix public health weaknesses before the next pandemic hits