With as many as 22,000 cases reported in 80 countries worldwide, the World Health Organization has not been hesitant to declare the latest monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency. The number of cases multiplied by five since June, the virus has also made an impact in the U.S., with 10,768 cases reported. Easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or respiratory droplets, monkeypox causes fever, aches, and painful, pus-filled skin lesions, meriting concern for how to contain it and curb its spread.
As we move past the “crisis” phase of the pandemic, it can be easy to adopt pre-pandemic, non-alarmist attitudes in response to viral diseases, especially with one that is assessed as being of “moderate” risk. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that a new era of more proactive action in deploying preventative resources is needed. In the face of emerging diseases, even those that are deemed to be minor threats to the well-being of our communities, companies should take the initiative to normalize one key action: testing.
The Experience with COVID
When COVID-19 first hit the U.S., the first reaction on a broad level was that of skepticism and caution. Even though the data told us that an event like this would eventually occur, many thought it best to deny the impact of the virus or downplay to what extent that it could affect our way of life. Agencies were slow to procure the necessary resources in the face of an imminent pandemic, with access to testing being one of the most neglected areas.
For example, early in March of 2020, Covid Clinic started as a small, grassroots effort to help make testing available even before people would realize the need for it. In the beginning, however, many of the organization’s efforts were not met with a huge reception. Because there was a lack of knowledge about how to respond to a never-before-seen disease, many of these early initiatives (e.g., setting up drive-thru testing in parking lots) seemed to be unfeasible and unnecessary.
Yet when the pandemic unfolded as it did in 2020 and going into 2021, it proved that diagnostic testing works to lessen and prevent the spread of infection. Moreover, when resources were devoted to open up new testing facilities, this made a huge impact to address inequality of access among underserved communities.
A Post-Pandemic Stance to New Diseases
As COVID cases, deaths, and hospitalizations begin to trend downward, it can be easy to downplay news about upcoming waves of new viruses and variants. Some might wonder that if the worst is behind us, how bad could the next one be? Yet adopting this stance would precisely ignore the lessons that COVID-19 should have taught us. We need to be more vigilant and proactive in how we address and contain any viral threats that potentially threaten our way of life— even if not to the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it comes to monkeypox, we should be very concerned about the exponential growth of the outbreak ever since it was first observed in May— as well as the “touch-based” way it spreads from person to person. We should also be alarmed by how the virus can be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces, although the risk is low. Even more concerning, children are now being infected— when they were historically not a population susceptible to the virus. Given how the risk of death is higher for young children and people who are immunocompromised or pregnant, this should keep our society on high alert.
Thus, health organizations and companies should take what they learned from COVID to understand that when new viral threats enter our society, we need to take action before they unfold on a broader scale. Our first priority needs to be testing. We normalize testing by devoting resources to open new testing facilities, while ensuring to the public that this infrastructure is necessary to proactively prevent the disease from getting out of hand.
Adopting a Quick Response Approach is Easier To Do Today
The good news is that being proactive and devoting resources is easier to do today than a few years ago. Even though there are situations where the rules have yet to be written, there is an opportunity to start fresh. The pandemic gave rise to organizations adopting the proven “wash and repeat” model to approach viral threats. Subsequently, organizations can lead the way by partnering with testing network organizations— particularly those with established roots in COVID-19 testing and who have made efforts to scale their services to address other diseases.
Overall, a new mindset is required. Every organization needs to see itself as one that is capable of quickly responding to public health emergencies. We should strive to be on the front line of those threats that can potentially disturb the health of communities. This entails proactivity and devoting resources to testing even before viral threats make headlines. It means the normalization of testing before the outbreak becomes widespread. It requires making a strong statement to the public that the caution around this new phenomenon is as essential as any other public health offering.