Public Health Measures and Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions for COVID-19

NIAID CEIRS | Research Publication Commentary

Cowling, B, and Aiello, A. Public health measures to slow community spread of COVID-19. The Journal of Infectious Diseases. (2020)

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the race to find an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus continues to accelerate. Researchers around the world, including several CEIRS investigators, are urgently experimenting with various therapeutic approaches. Whether it is by repurposing existing antivirals, designing novel small molecule inhibitors, or exploiting the adaptive immune response, the common goal is clear: stop SARS-CoV-2 and its 29 proteins from overcoming humans’ cellular machinery. Despite the fast tracking, approval of any treatment is still likely months away and vaccines over a year.

In the absence of medical options, the public health response must rely on community mitigation measures to control the pandemic. These non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) focus on limiting transmission of the virus through hygiene practices, use of personal protective equipment, isolation and quarantine, and general social distancing. Such measures have been credited with reducing morbidity and mortality amidst both the 1918 and 2009 influenza pandemics. A recent publication by Dr. Benjamin Cowling in the Journal of Infectious Diseases discusses the effectiveness of NPIs for COVID-19. The paper compares the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2, as they are currently understood, to influenza and other coronaviruses and how those characteristics influence transmission dynamics. It outlines the potential of NPIs to alleviate demands on the healthcare system as well as other critical needs during the pandemic, such as access to diagnostics. However, the authors point out that these mitigations are not without substantial economic, social, and ethical implications. The adoption of these practices by specific countries is also mentioned, and elaboration of these points can be found in Dr. Cowlings opinion article published in The New York Times.