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COVID two years later: An expert looks at lessons learned and those still being learned

Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of Infectious Disease at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, speaking with WBFO during a May 2021 interview.

Two years ago, the COVID pandemic finally arrived in Erie County. A local expert in infectious diseases looks back on the pandemic, the lessons learned and what is still being learned about a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

As Erie County officials were announcing the first confirmed cases of COVID within the county, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered New Yorkers to go home as businesses, schools and most of everyday life was halted.

Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of Infectious Disease for the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, recalls the general public believed that by going into lockdown, the pandemic would ease in a short period of time. That, of course, didn’t happen.

“I think the world assumes with the present state of medicine that, you know, we're less susceptible to the consequences of a pandemic. But the reality is that we are, and that we've learned some lessons from this pandemic,” Russo said in an interview with WBFO. “It’s unlikely to be the last, and hopefully we could do a little bit better next time.”

The virus changed and still mutates. Different variants rose up. Scientists, Russo says, kept learning new things about the illness and continue to do so to this day. During his interview, he discussed the frustration of keeping up with changing information, while some in the public used this as an attempt to discredit those conducting the research. Russo also discussed the ongoing education scientists are getting about long-term effects.

He offered some encouraging news. With the availability of a vaccine, Russo does not expect a lockdown would be necessary in the event of another surge. But he says the public will still need to take steps to protect itself as best as possible.

“A pandemic isn't necessarily all about the individual, but it's about everyone pulling together, since obviously, an infectious disease might not only involve yourself, but can affect others as well,” he said. “I hope that we don't see a pandemic in the near future. But if we do, I think we need to pull together better. We need to have fewer divides. We need to be less egocentric, and we need to all do what's really best for the community, as opposed to a more egocentric individual approach.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.