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What’s the Real Threat of the Mutating Virus?

Jefferson McMillan-Wilhoit, director of Health Informatics and Technology of the Lake County Health Department in Illinois

It’s a race between science, society, and the virus, said renowned epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant.

Epidemiologists have known a major health epidemic like COVID has been coming for several decades; it was never a matter of “if”, but of “when.” In the latest episode of our Leading Through Change video conversation series, Dr. Larry Brilliant, the renowned epidemiologist, technologist, philanthropist, and author, speaks about the current state of the national and global virus response and what we can expect in the coming year. Joining him is Jefferson McMillan-Wilhoit, director of Health Informatics and Technology of the Lake County Health Department in Illinois. McMillan-Wilhoit shares local insight into what’s working right now to help stop the spread. Watch the full video and read the top takeaways here:

[50:23] Epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant and Lake County, Illinois Health Department’s Jefferson McMillan-Wilhoit on Leading Through Change

Technology’s response has been phenomenal

Dr. Brilliant points out that both the virus and the science to combat it have moved forward at exponential speed. He also reminds us that we have to separate the virus itself from our response to it. While many aspects of development, manufacturing, and dispersal have been “a little lumpy,” he recognizes the tremendous progress in biotech for developing the tests and vaccines, and in infotech for creating the tools for measurement and analysis.

On the threat of new strains and virus variants

We’re in a race between the pace of our vaccine and testing development, and the speed at which the virus will mutate in an effort to survive. Dr. Brilliant lays out the numbers like this: there are going to be hundreds of millions of Coronavirus cases, so it’s natural to expect millions of new virus mutations. The more cases we have, the more the virus will evolve. Eventually, we have to be prepared for one of those mutations to figure out how to evade our vaccines and tests. That hasn’t happened yet – our vaccines and stop-the-spread tactics are still effective. But he urges us not to allow the virus to replicate so many times that the likelihood increases.

The importance of engaging community to stop the spread

Jefferson McMillan-Wilhoit of the Lake County Health Department in Illinois stresses how important it is to include civic groups to combat the virus together. In his county of 700,000 outside of Chicago, the local Black and Latinix community groups have helped distribute 88,000 units of PPE such as face shields to local families. His team has been focused on community engagement and input – which he deems “essential” for developing effective plans, policies, and procedures. “[U]nless they feel like they’re engaged in that, and they feel safe in that, we’re not going to get everybody vaccinated.”

This post is the latest installment of Leading Through Change, our video conversation series with industry and thought leaders who use Salesforce products to transform the way they work.

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