By Mike Goodman

On April 27, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) hosted an online community meeting featuring guest speaker Dr. Dennis Carroll. Dr. Carroll, a Southwest resident born and raised in Washington, DC, served for 15 years as the Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Pandemic Influenza and other Emerging Threats Unit. He currently heads the Global Virome Project, a collaborative scientific initiative to discover unknown viral threats and stop future pandemics.

Moderated by SWNA Board Chair Donna Purchase, the forum kicked off with a brief presentation by Ben Curran and Regina Blye, Co-Chairs of the Southwest Strong Task Force. They discussed the Task Force’s vision “to build a disaster resilient Southwest,” and the values of inclusion, coordination, and building on the hard work of those who worked on community response issues in the past. Following that presentation, Thelma Jones, founder of the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund, introduced Dr. Carroll, noting his ongoing efforts to help educate and inform Southwest residents about COVID-19.

Dr. Carroll began the conversation with an emphasis on the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, and the community’s extraordinary response, while stressing that unfortunately, we do not yet know how the virus will proceed. “We don’t really understand what it has in store for us as we move forward through the summer and into the fall. We need to be thinking about this as a marathon, not as a sprint,” stated Dr. Carroll.

Dr. Carroll emphasized that social distancing and improved hygiene has had a major impact on the number of people affected and who died. If these measures had not been taken, we would be in a far worse position. While there is still more about this virus that we do not know, we have at least built our knowledge of the virus, and that knowledge is helping us to combat it.

Originally, medical experts thought the symptoms associated with this virus were traditional respiratory symptoms. But as we move further into this pandemic, we learn that there are other symptoms that must be paid attention to. For example, says Dr. Carroll, we have learned that an early indication of infection may be a sudden loss of taste and smell, and encouraged residents to contact their physician if they feel that they have lost sense of taste and smell. We also have learned that people may become more tired than they typically are, and may show high levels of exhaustion, even without exhibiting other symptoms.

Dr. Carroll praised the city of DC’s leadership and response to the virus, while identifying “political mismanagement” from our federal leaders. “I find it unconscionable that there has not been a dramatic federal effort to ensure that the 330 million people who live in this country have access to rapid and accurate diagnostics,” says Dr. Carroll. 

We are also seeing more and more discussion around relaxing the restrictions we have utilized over the last six weeks. Dr. Carroll stressed that we must be very cautious with the process of relaxing efforts like social distancing, as the virus could come back in an even more dramatic fashion if we relax restrictions too early. “It’s a new way of living. We have to be patient. But this too will pass and it will pass quicker if we are diligent and patient,” stated Dr. Carroll.

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