By Cait Kemp
Springfield College welcomed Dr. Celine Gounder via Zoom to discuss COVID-19 and the social climate in today’s world with the student, staff, and faculty population. Dr. Gounder’s appearance was part of the Arts and Humanities Speaker series, and featured President Mary-Beth Cooper to facilitate the conversation.
Rachel Rubinstein, the Dean of School of Arts and Sciences, introduced the event and Dr. Cooper and Communications/Sports Journalism student Irene Rotondo introduced the distinguished guest of the night.
Dr. Gounder is an infectious diseases expert and was appointed to President Biden’s Transition Covid Advisory Board in 2020. She has dealt with the pandemic and the repercussions around it first-hand, and was able to bring a new perspective of knowledge to the Springfield College community.
President Cooper was prepared with a set of discussion points to lead the conversation with Dr. Gounder.
Gounder talked about how unpredictable the pandemic has been, and even for the professionals like herself it has been difficult to understand and plan for what happened and how it has played out.
“It is very hard to predict the future. One of the things we’ve learned about this virus is that what we think we know may change the very next day, and I think a bit of this happened with the emergence of the Delta variant,” said Gounder. “So I think we do need to be flexible and fluid and adaptable as we learn. I think there’s been a lot of desire to know for sure what is going to happen… and I think that’s been one of the hardest things over the past two years.”
She emphasized the importance of being informed as a citizen. There were struggles with the pandemic and all the uncertainty that loomed, which allowed for an abundance of misinformation to circulate.
“I do think having some basic science literacy about human biology, medicine, ethics- bioethics- is really important to be a well informed citizen during a crisis like this,” she said.
Because of misinformation, she acknowledged that fear has grown about getting the vaccine.
She said, “I think there is a lot of fear that it may not be safe, and that is simply not true…we’re still having a very difficult time getting that through.”
She encourages people to receive the vaccine and that it is a beneficial way to protect against the more dangerous symptoms of the virus.
President Cooper then switched gears to ponder about the post-pandemic world, and what Dr. Gounder can predict or foresee coming in hopefully the near future.
“We do not think the virus is going to go away, so when we say post-pandemic, what that really means was shifting into endemic, so that means there’s ongoing, lower level transmission of the virus going on in the community,” she explained.
“I think at that point the people that will be getting really sick will be the elderly…so I think you’ll continue to see some level of severe disease in those groups, and that’s not unlike what we see in influenza.”
She said that she thinks this will become something that we can live with, and will become something comparable to the flu.
Childhood vaccinations and mild breakthrough cases will probably be the norm for Covid moving forward, and Gounder is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the pandemic, and recognized that some communities will do better depending on what they do with the tools they have to help contain the virus.
Gounder’s lasting perspective was talking about the importance of community in difficult times like this.
“I would emphasize the importance of community. Whether that is a community to support one another during a pandemic, you know offering mutual aid, I think community in terms of being creative and banding together, coming up with solutions…” she said. “I think that’s where everything has to start and I’m hopeful that this has awakened us to that need.”
Speaking to Springfield College about being a community for one another is familiar. With the Humanics philosophy, it is the norm for Springfield College students to help one another at any time, not only times of need. Gounder’s final words reinforce that idea in the minds of students and faculty, and there is no doubt that they will take what she said and apply it to everyday life on Alden Street.
Photo Courtesy Celine Gounder