Deborah Birx, MD, highlights concerns about the lack of data-driven action in the fight against COVID-19. She emphasizes the need for timely alerts and empowering communities to protect vulnerable individuals.
In a recent conversation with Infection Control Today® (ICT®), public health expert Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD, a Senior Fellow of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, highlighted the significant changes, particularly in data-driven actions since she last spoke with ICT in May 2023, when the public health emergency was officially ended. Birx expressed her concerns regarding the lack of proactive use of data to drive action and emphasized the need to empower communities with the information they need to protect vulnerable individuals.
One major shift that Birx pointed out is the change in the federal government's approach to COVID-19. She said, “Our federal agencies took a very almost blasé approach now to COVID-19.”
While data collection efforts have not ceased, Birx said, “They may as well have because they're not using the data to drive action. So, my feeling is if you're going to go to the trouble to set up wastewater surveillance, then use it.” This is a crucial oversight, Birx believes, especially given the recurring nature of COVID-19 waves, specifically the predictable summer wave, which has occurred every year since 2020. When wastewater surveillance data indicated an uptick in COVID-19 in specific communities, she argued that immediate alerts should have been sent out to those areas. These alerts would have reminded individuals, especially older persons, who are at higher risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death to ensure their immunizations were up-to-date, know where to get tested, and have access to treatment options.
Birx emphasized the importance of acting swiftly during these short-lived waves, which typically last 6 to 8 weeks. Simple protective measures, such as testing symptomatic individuals within households and avoiding large social gatherings, could significantly reduce the spread of the virus. However, she pointed out that the CDC did not issue timely warnings to communities facing rising cases.
Birx urged health authorities to use the data collected to inform decisions and empower people with the necessary information to protect vulnerable family members and communities. She believes that data-driven action is the key to preventing hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly and other high-risk populations.
Birx said, “We have technology, we have innovation, we have data, and we're not using the data for decision-making, and we're not empowering people with the information that they need to protect their vulnerable relatives.”