The Pandemic Isn’t ‘Over’ Yet—Caution Still Makes Sense
With all due respect to our president, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want our patients to know that the pandemic is not “over.” It might be more correct to say we are out of the emergency phase we experienced during the first two years.
This is because hospital emergency rooms are no longer overflowing with cases; we now have effective vaccines that can reduce symptoms and save lives, and we have effective treatments that can keep people out of the hospital.
However . . .
We’re still seeing too many cases of COVID-19 that could have been prevented, while daily deaths across the U.S. are still numbering close to 400. And more than 31,000 Americans are being hospitalized with the infection every day.
The average number of recorded new cases is currently 60,000, which is much higher than in the spring. And that number doesn’t count those who test at home and don’t report it, as well as those who don’t bother to test at all.
In addition, transmission rates of this highly contagious virus remain “high” or “substantial” in more than 90 percent of the country.
Then there’s the issue of so-called long COVID, which affects about 20 percent of those who’ve had COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition includes a constellation of debilitating symptoms, including extreme fatigue, brain fog, chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath that make it difficult to resume normal activities.
Finally, there’s the economic impact of treating these people, and the lost work hours associated with sick days, not only from the week or two each person has an active infection but also in those with lingering long COVID symptoms. An August report from the Brookings Institution found that up to four million people may currently be out of work from long COVID alone.
What the Experts Say
Many medical professionals took issue with President Biden’s recent statement that the pandemic is “over.”
“Well first, let me underscore the fact that despite the fact that the president said that, the pandemic is not over,” Paul Sax, professor of medicine and a clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told WBZ-TV in Boston.
“We still have quite a lot of COVID-19 out there. You probably know people—everyone knows people who recently got it,” he told the station’s Courtney Cole, adding, “I do expect that it will actually get worse as the winter weather comes in.”
Another doctor suggested a different phrasing the president could have used.
“The president could have said, ‘We’ve never been in a better place to reopen society, if we optimize the use of our available tools,’ ” Jerome Adams, a former U.S. surgeon general and a distinguished professor and executive director of health equity initiatives at Purdue University, wrote recently in USA Today.
“We can celebrate progress and use that progress to call for even greater efforts to increase access to boosters, testing, treatments, and better ventilation, and expand research on long COVID-19 and more durable vaccines,” he said.
Keeping Up the Fight
We wish as much as anyone else that the pandemic was behind us. But we are especially concerned about those who are particularly at risk: anyone over the age of 65 and people who are immunocompromised.
To take just one factor—brain health—as an example, a study of the health records of more than six million Americans published last month in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that those over the age of 65 faced a greater risk of receiving a new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease within a year of recovering from COVID-19.
As White House advisor Anthony Fauci told The Atlantic, “Four hundred deaths per day is not an acceptable number as far as I’m concerned. We’ve got to get it down much, much lower.”
We don’t want anyone to panic over the possibility of getting COVID-19. There’s no doubt we’re in a much better place than we were at the outset. We know much more about the virus now, how it behaves, and how to treat it.
But we do want our patients to continue exercising caution, especially if you are older or immunocompromised. Therefore:
- Be sure you are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations. This includes completing the first series of vaccines and receiving a booster of the newly approved omicron-targeted vaccine. Sax told WBZ-TV that if you haven’t had COVID-19 in the last three months and haven’t been vaccinated in the last three months, now’s the time to get the booster vaccine.
- Limit your exposure. This means avoiding crowded situations, especially those indoors with poor ventilation. Restrict the number of people who come into your home, and be sure they’re wearing masks when they do. Even those who are asymptomatic can transmit the virus.
- Wear a mask when you venture out in public or have people in your home.
And don’t hesitate to resist popular opinion and others’ careless practices when it comes to your health.
As Tedros Adhalom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said at a recent press conference, “We can see the finish line [of the pandemic], but now is not the time to stop running.”