Houston Methodist President and CEO Provides Update on Current COVID-19 Cases, Outlook for the Future
Asia Society at Home
HOUSTON, September 14, 2020 — In the first program of its new fall series, COVID-19: New Realities, Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) welcomed back Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Boom to discuss the state of coronavirus in the fall with Martyn E. Goossen, vice chair of ASTC’s board of directors. The conversation addressed where the country – and Houston specifically – stand with regard to COVID-19 cases, the status of testing and state responses, and hopes around treatments and vaccine development.
Where are we today in terms of COVID-19?
Goossen began the program by comparing the state of the pandemic to early April, when Dr. Boom first joined ASTC to discuss the novel coronavirus. He noted that global cases of COVID-19 at the time had just reached over 1 million, with 236,000 cases in the U.S. and only 4,700 in Texas. As of September 10, the world has recorded over 27.7 million new cases, with 6.4 million in the U.S.; Goossen reported that Texas has seen over 600,000 total cases.
Dr. Boom acknowledged that Texas currently has the second most cases in the country, but also noted the state’s high population and the overall lower death rate from the disease compared to the surge in New York City in April and May. He said that part of that is due to the increased capacity for testing, and added that he believes that once reliable rapid tests are more widely available, they will be transformational, allowing even those who are asymptomatic to test themselves daily.
Dr. Boom also discussed the country’s response to COVID-19 over the past six months, including the second surge of cases Texas experienced in June and July. He noted that different states had implemented different responses in terms of shutdown and reopening, but pointed to masks and attendant behavior, including social distancing, as key to controlling the spread of COVID-19 – a phenomenon Texas is now seeing after a July surge. “We need to keep masks as mandatory as possible for as long as possible,” he said, emphasizing the issue as an important public health behavior to depoliticize.
When can we expect treatments and vaccines to be available?
In discussing the development of treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, Dr. Boom cautioned there are no silver bullets or panaceas. However, he noted some treatments had seen modest success in reducing hospital stays or decreasing mortality rates for COVID-19 patients, including remdesivir and certain steroids. He also indicated studies are continuing into other therapies, including favidpiravir (an oral antiviral) and monoclonal antibodies (natural antibodies genetically engineered into new medicines). In the meantime, Dr. Boom said he believed that convalescent plasma therapy – which the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for, though its broader efficacy is still being evaluated – is a reasonable tool and stepping stone to other potential therapies. Convalescent plasma was first successfully used to treat a patient at Houston Methodist Hospital in March.
Dr. Boom said there are numerous vaccine trials underway, with five to six frontrunner candidates. He explained the necessity for those trials to follow normal protocol and complete a full Phase 3 trial because the eventual vaccine will go to hundreds of millions of people across the globe. He acknowledged that the logistics are complicated, adding that he believes the end of the year would be the earliest for a small number of people to get vaccinated, while a more realistic date for wide vaccine distribution will be in the first and second quarters of 2021.
Where do we go now?
According to Dr. Boom, it is likely the coronavirus will be with us for a long time, though not in the same manner it is affecting society now. As he has not seen meaningful or substantial mutations in the coronavirus, he indicated that a vaccine would likely convey a reasonable immunity period – a couple years, in his estimation, before booster shot may be needed.
In learning to live with COVID-19, Dr. Boom underlined again the importance of individual behavior, such as wearing a mask in public, avoiding crowded social gatherings, and getting an annual flu shot. He noted that if hospital staff can adapt to long hours and busy days attending patients in masks, he believes it can absolutely be done in schools, churches, and offices around the country. He explained the importance of encouraging people to return to routine healthcare, to prevent adverse health effects from people delaying necessary care. Flu shots, for example, can help prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with flu patients along with COVID-19 patients, he said.
Finally, Dr. Boom discussed how the pandemic has shown the importance of investing in public health infrastructure, such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. With regard to the WHO, he noted that the pandemic “shows how global we are in this day and age” and the necessity of a global organization and response.
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, and United Airlines, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau, Presenting Sponsors of Performing Arts and Culture; Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsor of Education & Outreach; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Vinson & Elkins LLP, and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
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With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach.