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Beyond COVID: A Look Ahead​

The coronavirus has been a big part of our lives since 2020. What’s next?

spinner image White House COVID-⁠19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha speaks during a daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House on October 25, 2022 in Washington, DC.
White House COVID-⁠19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha speaks on the status of Covid-19 in the United States during a daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House on October 25, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The early days of the pandemic seem like both yesterday and a distant memory. But one thing’s for sure: We’ve come a long way since then.

We now have vaccines to help block serious complications from COVID-19 and treatments to curb severe illness, along with a suite of other protective measures that can help keep us safe while coexisting with COVID.

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With a symbolic end to the pandemic on the horizon, ​Ashish Jha, M.D., the White House COVID-19 response coordinator​, looks at life beyond the coronavirus, including lessons learned, and explores how we might deal with disease outbreaks in the future.

How will we be better prepared for the next “virus out of nowhere”?​

Because of this crisis, we’ll have better surveillance capabilities for diseases. If a new pathogen comes up, we’ll test wastewater around the country and figure out exactly where that pathogen is spreading. In early 2020, we didn’t even know where the virus was. Developing the vaccines in under a year was a miracle of science that saved millions of lives. We still have to do better. In the future, we’ll want to build vaccines in four or two months rather than eight.​​

Going forward, how should the government address the distrust, ignorance and disdain many people have for science?​

You build trust by being trustworthy. When people don’t trust the information they’re getting, they go looking for alternative sources and that creates the context for misinformation and disinformation to really thrive. How do we fix that? Number one is reminding Americans that science is not a destination; it’s a process. What scientists knew about the virus at first is certainly different than what we know about the virus today, and that doesn’t mean we were wrong then or we’re wrong now. It just means science is about the evolution of knowledge.​​

​Should we anticipate a future in which new viruses will steadily emerge?​

The short answer is yes. Between globalization, industrialization of countries and climate change, we’re going to see more disease outbreaks. We may see more pandemics. That’s why it is super important for private companies and governments to continue making investments in diagnostics and treatments and vaccines.​


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​Nursing homes got hit hard during COVID. What are the lessons for the future?​

​One of the most important systemic changes we can make is improving indoor air quality in nursing homes. That will lower the burden of respiratory pathogens — not just COVID but flu and RSV, and parainfluenza. Second, we must improve access to quality care in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living and other places older Americans live. Nursing homes are struggling with getting tests and treatment to the right people, and right now 300 Americans a day are dying. A vast majority of them are older Americans. There’s no reason for that.​

What gives you hope as you look ahead?​

The sense of responsibility we have for older people. It would have been easy to say, “Hey, if you’re 25, why are you even getting a vaccine? You may not need it.” But millions of people said, “Well, I may be visiting my mom or grandma and don’t want to bring the virus to them.” As a country, we don’t just do things for ourselves. We do things for people we love. With that approach, we can get through this crisis.​

For more on this topic, read the author's piece on lessons from the pandemic on

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