DU STAT Conference Explores Post-Pandemic World
Through an examination of the past, DU looked to the future in its second annual STAT Conference: What is COVID teaching us?
On Jan. 26, in a four-hour session of Seeking Tomorrow’s Answers Together, experts from across the country explored the impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of life.
Even as the Omicron variant slows, the U.S. is still averaging 519,000 cases a day, more than double last winter’s count before the widespread rollout of the coronavirus vaccines.
Through Zoom, the live audience was welcomed by Corrine Lengsfeld, senior vice provost of research and creator of the STAT conference.
Keynote speaker Hilary A. Smith, an associate professor of history at DU, helped contextualize the ongoing pandemic in her presentation, “The Pandemic Stress Test: A Historical Perspective on Moving Forward in the Age of COVID-19.
“As a historian, I get the luxury of having the long view,” Smith says.
A scholar on the history of diseases, she was dumbfounded by the barrage of the phrase “unprecedented times.”
So she examined it further. In 2019, she found the phrase used in 346 articles compared with 43,535 articles in 2020.
But to a historian, nothing is without precedent. “Everything has a history, even global pandemics,” Smith says.
As case numbers drop, she says, there are two historical responses – a push for eradication or for a return to normal.
From smallpox to polio, her review weaved through the centuries. Eradication is a modern goal, dating to the 1880s. Smallpox is the only human disease certified as eradicated by the World Health Organization. Its model for eradication, Smith says, likely cannot be replicated in COVID-19, as smallpox was a near-perfect candidate for eradication.
But Smith doesn’t want to return to a pre-COVID normal. She hopes the U.S. makes long-term improvements to address the problems revealed by the pandemic “stress test.”
After her presentation, the session explored intimate partner violence, stress in America, brain fog and post-COVID-19 syndrome, COVID-19’s effects on young children and early care and education programs, and using comfort dogs to support mental health during campus quarantines.
The second session painted a brighter picture with a glimpse into the future.
Vaccines and variants, specifically omicron, were addressed by Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist, professor of medicine and associate chief in the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Omicron has 32 mutations across the spike protein. Because the U.S. has spike protein vaccines, Ghandi says, our antibody production lowers. But the T-cell response remains intact, so vaccinated people are far less likely to contract severe illness or death from omicron.
Like Smith, Ghandi says COVID-19 probably will be controlled but not eradicated, as COVID-19 does not have the features of an eradicable infectious disease.
“It really has to do with the elements of the virus, not elements of humans,” she says.
A combination of vaccines, increasing immunity in the population and treatments will help control COVID-19. The United Kingdom, one of the first areas to see the omicron variant, believes it has reached the endemic stage – dropping nearly all of its COVID-19 restrictions.
While COVID-19 reshapes our personal lives, it’s reshaping our professional lives too.
“The Great Resignation rages on as a record 4.5 million Americans quit,” says a headline quoted by Lisa Murphy, executive director of human resources at National Jewish Health.
Turnover in health care is at an all-time high, reports the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
But the reason is complicated, Murphy says. She compares it to spokes in a wheel. If one spoke in the employment wheel breaks, an employee might stay. But she’s seeing multiple spokes starting to break.
Murphy cites compensation, a change in work and life priorities, remote work or in-person office work, a change in career and burnout as some reasons employees are quitting.
Murphy suggests looking outside the box by strengthening not only compensation and benefit programs, but also retention initiatives.
While staffing shortages likely will linger, Murphy sees this as an opportunity to invest in the workforce and culture in ways never done before.
She left the audience with one last headline, “The Great Resignation: It’s not as great as the screaming headlines suggest.”
To watch the conference, please click here.