Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications
February 18, 2021
Fill me in: For this week’s Path Forward U.S. Chamber President and CEO-Elect Suzanne Clark joined two renowned public health experts in a conversation about the coronavirus mutations that are raising concerns about our ability to fight back against COVID-19.
Dr. Sharon Peacock of the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. Consortium and Dr. Jonathan Li of Harvard Medical School explained why the virus is mutating, what the new variants that have been discovered mean for infection rates, and how we can ensure tests, therapeutics, and vaccines remain effective.
The Path Forward is a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event series designed to help business and community leaders find the answers they need to execute a responsible reopening strategy and plan for a post-pandemic world.
What happened?Doctors Peacock and Li emphasized that the same proven tools that work against COVID-19 will work against its new variants. That means masking, social distancing—and perhaps most vitally—vaccines, are more important than ever.
The doctors also underlined the vital importance of vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible so that the coronavirus has less opportunities to evolve into more transmissible or deadly strains.
Dr. Peacock said that the currently-available vaccines would work against the variants of COVID-19. While Dr. Li added that it’s vital that “we don’t drop our guard too soon” on other measures combatting the spread of the virus like wearing masks and social distancing.
- “Each time the virus goes through a human body it has an opportunity to make a mistake in its genome [mutate]. So, driving down the burden of disease is absolutely a top priority. And that comes in two flavors: one is vaccinating people…but the second, really, is back to the behaviors we adopt to avoid spreading the virus.” – Dr. Peacock
- “I suspect though, that we’re going to have to develop a way of living with the virus…In the end, the virus will be something rather like influenza—we will learn to live with it, we will learn to vaccinate against it. It will become part of the way we live.” – Dr. Peacock
- “For business leaders, I would be optimistic. I would vaccinate the workforce. Having COVID-safe environments is really important. I think better days are to come, but in the end we will be living with this virus, rather than simply getting rid of it.” – Dr. Peacock
- “We are doing a better job than ever of keeping our patients out of the hospital and if they are admitted to the hospital, keeping them alive.” – Dr. Li
- “All of the public health interventions that are currently recommended will also work with these new variants. This includes wearing face masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing—even some of the limits on gatherings as well. These [new] variants do appear to be more transmissible. It also means we need to do an even better job of adhering to some of these guidelines.” – Dr. Li
- “The tests that we’re using at the moment don’t miss the [coronavirus] variants—they detect them. There is lots of redundancy built into tests so that they don’t fall over when small changes happens to the viral genetic code.” – Dr. Peacock
- “New infections are going down despite the presence of these new variants because we now have good tools in our toolbox. It’s important that we don’t drop our guard too soon. That we continue to heed all the public health messages, that we try to get people vaccinated as much as possible.” – Dr. Li
Our take: Don’t forget—wearing a mask and social distancing make a big difference in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.
It’s also vital that Americans get vaccinated or have a plan to get vaccinated once supplies become available for their group. The approved vaccines are safe, widely available, and help protect you, your family and others—so make getting one a priority. For more information on COVID-19 vaccination in your area, contact your local health department.
What’s next:Please join future Path Forward events to learn how to better protect you workers, customers, coworkers, and friends from the spread of coronavirus.
- Visit the Path Forward website.
- Go to the Chamber’s site on reopening your business.
- Watch the webcast of this edition of the Path Forward.