Episode 29: Translating COVID-19 Research



Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:04

Positivity rate, incubation period, herd immunity. Once only common in conversations among public health experts, these terms have become part of everyday jargon. While we may all be better versed in public health terminology and concepts, we probably still have a lot of questions and may still be wondering how to make sense of it all. Today, we’re excited to share with you a panel discussion with three UCLA public health experts on translating COVID-19 research to our everyday lives. In today’s conversation, dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and distinguished professor of biostatistics, Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, shares his insights into the data being reported on COVID-19. Public health communications expert and professor of community health sciences Dr. Deb Glik shares her advice for an effective national communication strategy. And UCLA Executive Master of Public Health student and registered nurse Jessica Arzola, shares her experience working on the front lines. We hope you enjoy it. Welcome, everybody to our panel. The panel is called “Translation of COVID-19 Research to the General Public”. And I’d like to introduce today our esteemed panelists, Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, who’s the dean of UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and distinguished professor of biostatistics, Jess Arzola, who is a nurse and also a Fielding School of Public Health candidate, and Dr. Deb Glik, who’s the professor of Department of Community Health Sciences at UCLA in the Fielding School of Public Health. Welcome everyone, to this panel. And so I’d like to start with Dr. Ron Brookmeyer with a question that is top of mind since it dictates what stores are open, what schools are open, and it has to do with statistics. We’ve been hearing a lot about different levels of prevalence of the disease, hospitalizations, deaths. I want to know how we interpret this data and which is the data point that we really should be looking at as we move forward, from your point of view, but also from the public’s point of view?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  02:20

Well, Wendy first, thanks very much for having me, it’s really a pleasure to be here. You know, with regard to data, I gotta tell you, it’s been a real roller coaster with the numbers. Let me start by telling you what’s on my mind right now, which is about vaccines, and looking at the percent coverage, percent of people who are getting vaccines. Nationally, right now we’re at about 8% of people who have received one dose, and about 2% who’ve received two doses, but we need to do better. And part of the reason is getting the vaccines into people’s arms, and when we look at how many doses have been delivered, the thing I look at is what fraction of those have actually gotten into people. And we’re at about 60% right now. So there’s still a lot of work to do on that. The second thing right now that I’m looking at, are these variants of the virus, you know, the UK variant, South African, which can be more transmissible and possibly give more serious disease. As far as the data on that, we have to do better, because we need much more systematic public health surveillance for the variants. If you don’t look for it, you’re not going to find it. So you know, at the end of the day, it’s a race with these variants. We have to get the vaccine out before we have more mutations. Now coming back to how we measure, you know, where are we with the pandemic, you know, you mentioned the test positivity rate. So what that is, it’s the percent of tests that come back positive. It takes into account the number of tests that’s in the denominator, and that’s good in terms of standardizing things. In LA county right now, the test positivity rate is about 12%. One of the issues with that number is, it depends upon who’s coming in to get a test. So, you know, early on in the pandemic, the people who were being tested were those who were symptomatic. So what that meant was you have a very high test positivity rate. So it can be skewed and it’s hard to interpret depending upon who’s coming in for a test. So I’ll tell you what I look at, I look at hospitalizations, and I look at deaths. I think they give us an accurate picture of where we are. The good news in LA county is that all three had been coming down since mid-January, the test positivity rate, the hospitalizations, the deaths, were at about 30-40% off the peak that we saw earlier in January. Nationally, we see that decline in cases, we’re not seeing yet in deaths but of course, deaths lag behind cases. The other thing I want to come back to is, sometimes with these numbers, you got to take a deeper dive. And, you know, when we look at the community level, we see real major disparities, you know, the rates can vary three or fourfold more in communities of color, by race, by ethnicity. When we look at poverty level, when we look at some of these numbers by census tract or zip code and stratify by poverty, we see some real disparity. So the bottom line here is that one number doesn’t tell the whole story.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:50

What I’m hearing is the 8% vaccine rate that is currently here is in United States, not worldwide. Is that correct?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  05:57

Yeah, that’s the national rates.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:00

And what I’m hearing you say, Ron, is that the hospitalization and death rates are much more sensitive to what we’re potentially seeing in the broader community in terms of the prevalence or the issues around COVID?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  06:14

Yeah, because that’s right Wendy, I think it’s because of the different patterns of how people come in for testing, it’s hard to get a relative measure of which way things are going. You just have to be careful in the interpretation, whereas the hospitalizations and deaths, I think, are less sensitive to being skewed by who’s coming in for testing and so forth.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:39

Right, exactly. That makes sense. So a lot of people are wondering that, you know, these variants, which is what you are concerned about, and I think many of us are, right, that we’re not really measuring them very accurately in the United States, compared to other countries like UK. Do you think that there was a variant that is one of the reasons why we had this uptick, besides, you know, the surge of post-Thanksgiving, post-Christmas?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  07:06

You know, I don’t think so, I don’t think we’ve seen that yet really, the full impact on variants. I think a lot of the uptick that we saw in January had to do with the holidays, and we know what spreads this, right? It’s travel, it’s, you know, and understandably, wanting to get together and celebrate, it’s been a long year. But that’s what really, that spreads it, being indoors, but we have to be alert for the variants and they are here. The UK variant is in, you know, well over 30 states right now. We need to be monitoring and it is more infectious is what the data is saying. So that’s something we got to be monitoring very, very closely.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:50

You mentioned something that struck me. Dr. Fauci has shared that the four most deadliest areas you could be are bars, indoor dining, gyms, and traveling. Those are the four, so it makes sense then how, you know, cities have had to close down indoor dining and bars and gyms. Well, so moving on to Jess, I would like to know what’s it been like working in a hospital during COVID.

Jessica Arzola  08:18

Thank you for having me here as well. I feel very intimidated to be with all these professionals as a student. I’m so happy to be here and share this space with you all. I was just talking to my coworkers about this, and it was the first time we reflected since March. We talked about how we’re feeling and we could not put a word to it. And even now, as I was preparing to speak with you all, I still cannot put a word to it. I think I’ve been quite scatterbrained since March. It’s a lot like a roller coaster ride as well here in the hospital. There are times where I walk into work with my upbeat music and I’m thinking to myself, I’m going to save a life, I’m going to do my job, I’m going to do great, and I’m going to go home and study afterwards. And then there are days where I’m in the hospital and they have a COVID positive patient and anxiety gets the best of me, fear gets the best of me and I can’t help but feel frustrated, you know, as positive as I want to be. It’s scary having these patients in the hospital and you know, while the surge was happening we did have quite a few more cases and now they’re kind of coming down a bit which is great. But during that first surge in the beginning of January I had my COVID positive patient that I had to take care of and I just remember gowning into the room and being so anxious and thinking to myself, “Did I cover my hair? Did I cover my shoes? Did I hide my phone? Did I silence my phone? Did I I get everything I need for me to be safe?” And then once I’m in the room, “Oh no, did I get everything I need for my patient? Do I need to gown back out? Do I need to get this? Am I treating her right? Am I catching this in time? Am I treating this disease right?” And then gowning out of them is a whole nother mental gymnastics again. “Did I gown out right? Did I touch anything? Did I touch my pen? This pen, is it contaminated? Am I breathing in too much? Did I talk too much in the room and prevent my mask seal from working effectively?” It’s quite the mental gymnastics game. And then leaving the hospital and logging onto Twitter, and seeing how politicized it’s all been, you know, seeing Twitter and seeing social media, seeing people traveling. And you know, it’s been interesting working in the hospital, it’s been challenging at times, it’s been positive at times, I feel great that I’m doing my part. At times, it just feels a little disheartening to see the external world. And whether it’s indifference, acceptance, or kind of challenging of the pandemic and social responsibilities you must take, it’s been an interesting roller coaster ride, and I still can’t even think, “How do I feel?” and “How is it in the hospital?” Aside from it’s been anxiety-ridden. It’s been truly a roller coaster ride. It’s a long winded answer for your question. I think I’m still trying to kind of figure it out myself. Like, what’s it like in the hospital? Because I don’t think we talk about it often, because we’re so busy, that there is really no time.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:54

Yeah, I mean, it seems like a long time for you to first reflect with your coworkers. And, you know, I know that talking to people often helps with coping, what have you been doing to help cope with this?

Jessica Arzola  11:08

I’m trying to figure out how to cope still. I have been trying to exercise and keep normality and keep routine outside of the hospital as much as I can. I’m in graduate school so I’ve also been trying to focus on my studies. Obviously, it’s a lot more difficult to kind of accept that moment and focus on studying when you’re so worried about your work. So I’ve been coping with journaling and watching my coworkers. Just watching the way they relentlessly go into these rooms, watching the way they also make similar sacrifices and knowing that I am not alone in my experiences and knowing that there is camaraderie and our teamwork approach. I think that’s the best way I’ve been coping right now. Just feeling like I’m a part of a team with my coworkers, and talking it out with them. Even if we’re not talking about the pandemic, just talking about, you know, “I couldn’t see family, this sucks.” And, you know, “My hands are bleeding again, from all the hand sanitizing I have to do, this sucks.” And it’s just sharing those moments, no matter how small they are. They’re really effective.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:12

That’s very wise information to tell a lot of people in the pandemic, even people who might not be frontline workers like you. I think people have this feeling of disconnect or suffering, even those that are sheltering at home and I think routine, and you know, journaling, all the, you know, being reflective, those are really great wisdoms. Thank you, that’s really helpful for all of us. I’d like to know now that you are an MPH candidate, how has that framed your view of this pandemic?

Jessica Arzola  12:43

So we always hear about how important communication is, right. Communication to yourself, communication in your interpersonal relationships, communication with school, everything. I didn’t realize how important communication is until this pandemic happened, because a lot of us on the frontlines are wondering, “Okay, so what PPE is required? Is it aerosolized or is not? Is it airborne, is it not?” We weren’t always getting that communication right away, and I think that’s just limited to what we don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know, right. And research was still forming itself. But that communication was really necessary, not only for ourselves as providers, to take care of ourselves and take care of our patients, answer their questions and answer their family members’ questions, but also for the way the country and the world responded to this pandemic. I’ve had healthcare coworkers who would say, “Hey, why isn’t the CDC telling us this?” and “Why aren’t we being told this information? Why are our leadership in the hospital not telling us something that we want to know?” And a lot of it was just searching for answers. And then that search for answers, you try to find answers elsewhere. You’d tried to find answers from your neighbors, you’d try to find answers through social media, you’d try to find answers through the internet, and whatever way you can find it. Those answers are not always correct. And us as healthcare workers are searching for those answers. I can only imagine the general public as well. So I learned that communication is so important, not only for safety, but just for the functionality of the hospital, the functionality of the nation, and creating that unity to kind of get through this pandemic. Without that communication, it’s a very difficult slope. And I think I saw how necessary it was and I can only imagine for those not in a hospital how also just as necessary it was for them too.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:27

Well Jess, you just teed us up for questions with Deb Glik. So, Deb, you know, you’re an expert in communications. And I’d like to know, what have you found as a challenge here and now during this pandemic for communicating?

Dr. Deb Glik  14:43

You know, this is an excellent, large question, and I’m sure there’ll be books written about it for the decades to come. However, I mean, let me just say, you know, it gets right at the heart of what we call crisis and emergency risk communication, which is communicating to people in a disaster, and a pandemic is like a major disaster that goes on and on and on. Which means that you not only have to get up and running fast, you have to keep running in the risk communication sphere. And so I was thinking, a good way to maybe think about the challenges is really come up with so what are the benchmarks of good communication? And how did we do? And I’m gonna say right up front, we didn’t do so hot. Some people did very well, like Dr. Fauci and Governor Cuomo. Some people didn’t do so well, maybe they were somewhat disengaged or somewhat hesitant. And some people did terribly. We won’t mention those people. But let’s think about what makes a good risk communication? Well, first of all, it has to be consistent and clear. So if you have mixed messaging that gets people confused. Let’s go back and think about masks for a minute. You know, at first it was “We don’t know.” Well, they should have said, “We don’t know.” What they said is, “We don’t think they’re that important.” What they shouldn’t have said is that, they shouldn’t have said, “We don’t know. And when we do know, we’ll come back to you for guidance.” So that kind of thing is really important. And also speaking in a unified voice, and you’re absolutely right. We didn’t have a unified voice. And unfortunately, the people who typically are supposed to be charged with speaking, like CDC, was sort of sidelined. So that’s pulls into the next piece, which is credibility, that you need a certain degree of belief in what is being said, that it’s true. You know, when people question a practice, the risk communicator’s job is to give evidence. So for the vaccines now, the risk communication task is to convince people that they are safe, because that’s what people’s concern is, and that there was really 1000s and 1000s of people in clinical trials, and that’s the gold standard. And another issue in creating good risk communication is this issue of specificity. You know, it’s one thing to say wear a mask, but the real issue is, what’s an appropriate mask wearing behavior, like, you know, it has to be over your nose, or you should wear it, you know, in public, or you got to wash it occasionally. It’s those kinds of things that are more important, actually, for people to remember what they’re supposed to do. And the biggest issue, I think, for me is timeliness and relevance. So let’s think about what risk communication is. It’s part of risk management, it’s part of a bigger risk management issue. So look, you don’t turn the lights on the Christmas tree before you put the tree up, okay. So you have to be part of a plan. So with risk communication, it sort of first you have to have a plan about how you’re going to mitigate risk, what people need to do, what the organizations involved in the risk response are doing. Then the risk communication becomes relevant, because you can talk to people about what the agencies are doing, what they need to do, how it’s all going to work together. So think about lighting up the tree after you put the tree up and you put the lights on. You can practice beforehand, but it’s not ad hoc. It’s all planned out. It really is part of a whole cloth of how we work in the public domain. Finally, disseminated widely -pandemic and everybody’s at risk so everybody needs to hear it. Actually, we did okay, in that piece. You know, this is an amazing time where we had news, social media, everything, all you know, pandemic messages, co-opted everything. The problem was, of course, some of them are true, and some were not. But that is also the job of the risk communicator to come in and dispel rumors and create more of a, you know, validity, truthful, credible, consistent, and well thought-out risk communication plan. So overall, the grade, I’ll let you do that.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:24

Well, that was really well laid out and I think that transparency is really what you’re saying and sort of summing it up. And even saying you don’t know what you know, like what Jess was saying, you know what you know, or don’t know, right? So in terms of, you know, using your knowledge, what kind of message would you advise Jeff Zients and Vivek Murthy, who are now in charge of vaccine rollout? What would be the message you’d like them to say to the public if you were able to write it?

Dr. Deb Glik  19:54

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the the most important thing is understand your audience. What does your audience need to hear and want to hear? And the big issue with a vaccine is mainly vaccine safety. People are worried about whether it’s safe. So think about that as part of your objective, that you’re really trying to help people understand why the vaccine shouldn’t cause any major harm and actually, will push out a lot of good by having everybody not get COVID whose at risk. So how do you do that? You give stories, you give evidence, you talk about the evolution of the vaccine, you assure people that it didn’t just happen overnight, it was something that was in the works for years and years that is based on real, true, valid science. Now, look, you’re not going to convince everybody, there’s always the doubters. But really, the people they need to pay attention to are the vaccine-hesitant people. Those are the people in the middle. There’s the choir, who are rushing to get their vaccines, and there’s the anti-vaxxers who are protesting, you know, at Dodger Stadium in LA, but really your group that you want to and this is true with all health communication, you’re always going to convince that group in the middle that it’s okay, and they’re going to survive and their families are going to be okay. Not too much jargon, not science-heavy visuals if you can, but really, and finally, what are the characteristics of good risk communicators? They connect, they’re empathic, they’re passionate, they can sort of understand what the audience is going through, they don’t put people down, they don’t diminish the audience. They thank the audience for bringing them their concerns, and addressing them. I think the issue is always that good risk communicators have to really connect well with their audience, they have to understand what the audience’s concerns are not, you know, diss them, not diminish them, but sort of encourage them and help assure them that they’re going to get through this and it’s going to be okay. It is that healing process and we are in recovery now. We’re going into recovery and that’s what people have to be upbeat about.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:30

So, imagine a world where 70% of our population is vaccinated, twice if they need it, depending on the vaccine. How would you communicate to those that are vaccinated to continue some of these safety measures?

Dr. Deb Glik  22:48

I think what we’re going to have to do is continue the drumbeat for a while in terms of all these other things that people are doing. People may have to continue some social distancing, some mask wearing, some teleworking. You know, risk communication doesn’t end just because 70% of population is immunized, it basically has to continue. And I think reinforcement is really important, reinforcing people who are doing the right thing, who are taking this serious way, who are part of the solution. And that again, that’s part of this unified voice, this collective “we” that is part and parcel of good communication. Thanks, Deb. That was very useful. And I’ve already heard some people who have been fully vaccinated and other people saying, “Oh, you don’t have to wear a mask now.” So I know that’s not the message. So we need to continue that drumbeat, as you said. Turning to Ron, this is again, sort of imagining a world where we’re less restricted, so to speak. California has this four tier reopening plan, and LA county has a roadmap to recovery now outlining reopening protocols with criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions and activities. What is the science behind these reopening plans and tiered approaches?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  24:14

Thanks, Wendy. Well, we do know what works and the science is clear. And the science is clear about physical distancing. It’s clear about masks. It’s clear about avoiding large gatherings and doing things outside if possible. Now, how all of that comes together in these opening plans, is really risks versus benefits. It’s about reducing risks. It’s not about bringing it to zero because we can’t bring it to zero. And so the bottom line is the cocktail of these opening plans, you know, what’s open, what’s not. It’s not an exact science. The components, we know what the components are and what we need to do to reduce risks. But then it’s at what costs to the society? What about our economy? What about our children? What about our schools? And so, our goal is to reduce risk, can’t bring it to zero. And it’s a balancing act, we have to navigate this and put together the components that we know work in a proportion that as you mix this cocktail, that we have the best chance of reducing risks, but not at a great cost to all of us. Look, early on, you know, at the beginning of all this, we did really have an opportunity to control this. It was a missed opportunity, you know. The infectious period of COVID-19 is no more than a few weeks. So we could have broken the chain, if we had really, really strong control measures, and really good adherence. But we didn’t do that. And that came at great costs. And now we’re at the point a year into this, of having to balance all the other problems and parts of our society that come with closing down activities. So it’s a balancing act, and we have to keep reevaluating, looking at the data. And the word I keep saying is pivoting. We have to keep pivoting as the data comes in, and look at all aspects of our society. Now, what’s changed as we move into these different opening plans? Well, first, we do have an effective vaccine, we have two effective vaccines right now, at 95% vaccine efficacy. That’s amazing. I mean, that is really good. And the other thing that’s changed is everyone knows somebody who is affected by COVID. So the awareness is there now. And we’ve been into this for a year. So these opening plans as they are rolled out, it’s about monitoring, it’s about looking at the data. It’s about adherence, are people adhering to mask wearing? It’s about monitoring our vaccine coverage. It’s about looking at the variants and the economy and our kids in education, and pivot as the data comes in and see what we can do to lower risk but keep things going.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:20

Excellent answer. I was thinking, I kept hearing you say risk reduction. And there’s so many other aspects of public health that we use that strategy, in terms of preventing AIDs transmission, for instance, and other kinds of deadly infectious diseases. I’m wondering, you know, our LA Department of Public Health is very much I think, one of the best in the country. And I think they’ve done a really good job protecting a very large populace here in the county. What are your reflections in terms of, you know, what I’ve been hearing other departments of public health, who have not had as much of a robust infrastructure? And what would you like to see done in the future for our country to enhance the public health infrastructure?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  28:06

Well you know, one thing that I think has been overlooked is the stress on our public health workers. You know, I mean, I was reading recently, what’s going on in the New York State Department of Public Health, and a lot of stresses on the employees. And even in the LA County Department of Public Health, I know, the incredible stress that those who are working there are under as they feel pressures coming from all sides, and they feel the politics coming from all sides and the polarization and public health is as a field doing the best they can and our professionals are doing the best they can. And I think, you know, I think we need to pay more attention to all the stress that workers who are dealing with this are under. The other thing that I think we need to be looking at is coming to your question about the infrastructure. And you know, public health gets in the news, when we have an emergency, when we have a problem. And as soon as it goes away, you know, it fades and we can’t let it fade, you know, we have to be looking ahead. And public health infrastructure is what will make us prepared for the next pandemic. And I can guarantee you there will be another pandemic. And we need public health surveillance data to come in, to measure, to be prepared, to alert people, and when that data comes in to translate it, which is what we’re talking about today, and to communicate it to the public and saying what you know, and also saying what you don’t know.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:54

Well, as you said, this might not be the last pandemic. It will probably be one of many, maybe even in our lifetime given it potentially being one of the repercussions of climate change, and we have vectors to worry about as well, and all of those things are picked up by public health surveillance, as you pointed out very wisely. I’d like to know, how would you keep this urgency of public health as a critical member of our team for really the safety of our country? What would be one of the strategies, Ron, that you would think would be important to take at this stage? Given we’re still at the forefront of being up there in terms of getting the bully pulpit?

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  30:38

Yeah, well, I think leadership, getting the message out is one thing. So public health leadership, communication, and education, education about public health. You know, words that we use, like herd immunity, which now we take for everyone seems to know what herd immunity is now. But about six months ago, most people had never even heard of what herd immunity is. So, you know, the words, you know, incubation period, these are basic words that are not actually part of undergraduate education. It’s not part of high school education, or traditionally has not generally been a part. It might be, you know, for certain majors and in your undergraduate experience, but it is basic education about how we respond to global health problems. And as we can see, it’s affected all of us. And I think education, starting young about these basic things about epidemics, about public health, about health inequities are really very, very critical.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:48

That’s a, I think, great lead into Jess, what made you decide to go and get your MPH as an RN?

Jessica Arzola  31:55

Right. Prior to the pandemic, I just had many questions in healthcare, why am I seeing a pattern with these patients? Why am I seeing these patients loss to follow-up? I’ve seen that with adult patients. I’ve seen that with the pediatric patients and I know health inequities existed. I experienced them myself, my father experienced them himself, too. You know, he had a brain aneurysm years prior, and he had like underlying hypertension that we never knew existed. And he was one of those loss to follow-up patients because of insurance issues before Obamacare. And that kind of motivated me to be a nurse and kind of understand the hospital system. And now that I understand the hospital system, I’ll understand the policy. I want to understand what effect and what change I can have. So that led me to the MPH degree, kind of I know what I know, I know what I’ve seen, I know what I’ve treated, but what can I do about it? And now with this pandemic, my interest in public health has only skyrocketed. How can this be improved? How do we nurses kind of get in there with the health policy changemakers? How do we get in there with the public health professionals? We represent the largest workforce in the country. Why can’t we be a part of that conversation? And why can’t we be influential? So this pandemic has only heightened my interest in public health and preventing these things from happening, preventing voices from being silenced and preventing these unfair patterns. And, you know, helping those patients that medicine traditionally neglects.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:21

Thank you. I hear from Ron and Jess both also it’s about social justice, it’s about health equity. It’s about being fair, and bringing everyone along in terms of health and health and well-being which I think is not a privilege, it’s a right. I mean, it’s something that we should all be raising everyone up to a healthier life. So Deb, what would you say would be how we would keep this sort of drum roll going in terms of the value of public health and like Ron said, prevention. When you prevent something, you don’t get the glory, right. It’s sort of like it’s your job.

Dr. Deb Glik  33:57

Right. I mean, number one, I totally concur with what Ron just said, you know, we need to push for much better public health literacy in this country, meaning, we need to have kids in grade school, and high school and college understand what it means to you know, have an epidemic or pandemic. I agree it’s going to come back or we’ll get another version of this and another time, and helping people understand also the importance of the infrastructure that we do have. I mean, you know, even though it’s been stressful and unclear and uncertain how this you know, is going to play out, you know, we’re blessed. We have infrastructure that supports us. We have energy infrastructure and transportation infrastructure and food systems, and schools and universities and Internet. etc. And public health is front and center of these things. I mean, I go back in my own history at my first epidemic in Africa in the 70s. And it was cholera. And we didn’t have any of that. That’s a very different ballgame. So if we understand what we have and how to use it in the most effective way, we have amazing communication systems. But how do you use it right? How do we sort of mobilize correctly, so that we didn’t go through again, what we went through in the first few months of this. We could have nipped this in the bud if people had understood what it meant to shelter in place and not go out and not have undergrad parties and all that stuff. So this has been a huge, amazing growth experience, I think, for us culturally and socially. Gotta be ready, though.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:57

Yeah, that’s a very good summary of really identifying all our strengths and leveraging and building them to a better good, because we do have a lot of strength, especially here in the states. And I’m going to ask each of you the same question. I’d love to hear whoever wants to answer it first, on a positive note, how are we going to flourish and thrive as we recover from this pandemic? And what would you recommend to help prevent this from happening again? I guess we addressed that last question. So maybe the flourishing part.

Dr. Ron Brookmeyer  36:29

Well, you know, I’ll just say there are some good things that come out of this. And hey, look, we’re all working remotely. You know, that’s something that we, you know, we didn’t know we could do, or we were skeptical, and we’re more efficient than we thought we could be. And I think that’s going to change how we are, how we work together. And I think that’s good. I think remote learning has been embraced. And sure it’s not perfect, but it’s one other option that we have that, you know, there are things we can do, that we didn’t think we could do. And so for me, I’ve learned flexibility and I’ve learned resiliency, that, you know, I could do things that I said, “Nah, I can’t do it.” Yeah, I can work remotely. Yeah, we can teach remotely, we can learn remotely. So I think those are some good things. And I think we’ve learned to cooperate more together. And I think one message is that we’re all in this together. You know, when I walk my dog in the neighborhood and look across and somebody is walking their dog, we’re all wearing masks. It’s an acknowledgment that we’re trying to deal with this, we’re all connected, we’re all interconnected. And you know, that’s a message that I think resonates. And I think it’s going to affect a whole generation of kids. So I think there is some good that will come out of this. Look, microbes are opportunistic. They’re always looking for a way to get in so there will be another pandemic. But I think from this, and if we keep this in our memories, we will be more prepared, and we will be able to respond. And we will have the confidence and resilience that we can rise to the challenge.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:30

That feels good to hear that. I agree. Jess or Deb?

Jessica Arzola  38:35

I’m still kind of thinking through the answer. I think it makes me look at this whole concept of risk differently. Health risk, right, your mental health risk, your social health risk, your physical health risk, I’ve never felt like I was a risk to anyone up until this pandemic. Now I can’t visit anyone because I know I’m a risk. I work with COVID patients. So I’m a risk, but that risk has always existed, you know. There’s always been heart disease, there’s always been infectious diseases, there’s always been the opportunity for some type of accidents to happen. Your risk of some kind of health trauma happening has always been there. But it’s how do you live in relationship to that risk? And how do you live fruitfully and happily in relationship to that risk? How do you respect that risk? How do you live with that risk? That risk will always exist. So it’s being aware of that and knowing how to manage that. And this is not just limited to the pandemic, but any type of risk, even a mental health risk. You know, if you feel like your stress levels are crazy high, what are you doing to help manage that? And then I think like with what Ron said, the social interaction component, I am looking forward to that post-COVID hug with my dad that I have not had since March. I’m looking forward to that moment. And never to this day have I missed just being in a classroom of people, interacting with people, shaking their hand, having lunch with someone, even just sitting next to a stranger on public transportation. You realize how much those social interactions meant and you realize how much they mean right now even if they’re nonverbal and just passing by someone on the street, and you’re both distancing from one another in a form of unity. And those interactions, I cherish them so much. And I will never take that for granted again. But I think those interactions are still alive and they’re still beating, they’re still well, they’re growing. And they will always be there. But maybe we just needed this pandemic to remind us how much that matters and how much we can never take it for granted again, while managing the risks that will always be there and may present themselves differently in the future. I hope they don’t. But pandemics are a real thing. And they happen and they happen again.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:32

That’s lovely.

Dr. Deb Glik  40:35

Yeah, I guess I want to, you know, echo a lot of what Ron andJessica just said, and just say, you know, first of all, it really makes me feel good that I’m in public health. You know, and the fact is that it’s not just about understanding the problem, but thinking about and implementing solutions. That’s our field, it’s a very interesting, applied field. And we’re, like, really important. So that makes me feel good. And I think I know, we learned some humility along the way, as a culture, as a social system. Now, just because we’re America doesn’t mean that we can’t also, you know, not be number one, on some level. We’ve had to really understand and think through who are we? What do we stand for? Do we really stand for what we say we believe in? And yes, we are inequitable, we need to work on that. We need to understand how important everybody is. We are connected. We have all these privileges and we don’t even appreciate sometimes that which we have. So I think appreciating who we are, what we have, the importance of everyone that again, goes back to we’re all in this together. Pandemics are not going away. They’re part of our history. They’re part of our future. Let’s hope people take this lesson to heart and really understand how important it is to minimize our risks for these things.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:13


Semel HCI  42:16

Thank you for tuning in to this panel discussion on translating COVID-19 research. To wrap up today’s rich conversation, I’d like to share three of our main takeaways. Dean of the Fielding School of Public Health and distinguished professor of biostatistics, Dr. Ron Brookmeyer shared that hospitalization rates and deaths are two statistics he likes to look at for an accurate picture of where we are in the pandemic. Professor of community health sciences in the Fielding School of Public Health and communications expert Dr. Deb Glik shared that effective communication should be transparent, timely, consistent and address the audience’s concerns. And UCLA Executive Master of Public Health student and registered nurse Jessica Arzola shared from her personal experiences and decision to pursue a master’s in public health that public health perspective can be highly beneficial for the delivery of healthcare to individuals. Thank you again for joining us. For more information about today’s episode, visit our website  at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcasts. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episode, subscribe to UCLA LiveWell on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Leave us a rating to tell us how we’re doing and if you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, please tweet your idea to us @healthyUCLA. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well-being.

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