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The Pandemic Is NOT Over

Judy Stone, MD

Disclosures

September 27, 2022

"If you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it's changing…"

At first, I thought Uncle Joe had just made another gaffe, something he does regularly. But then White House officials doubled down on saying the pandemic is over. It's not. Not by a long shot.

This is wishful thinking. Or worse, it is gaslighting because the administration doesn't want us to notice that they have failed and have given up fighting COVID.

As of September 1, 2022, 500 people in the US are still dying each day of COVID, down from 3800 in February. There's an average of 60,000 new daily cases. This past week, there were 424,339 cases and 2973 deaths. Does that sound like the pandemic is over?

Congress has stopped additional funding for COVID since the spring and is unlikely to provide any more. After all, the pandemic is over, right?

The feds even stopped providing free testing kits last month.

Even worse is the awful messaging on masking. The CDC went to an "individual choice" model for masking, leading cities like New York to — shortsightedly — no longer require masks on public transit.

Our vaccination record in the US is nothing to boast about. Per Our World in Data, only 67.6% of Americans have received the initial two vaccine doses. That places us in 14th place, just ahead of Bangladesh. Cuba ranks No. 1, at 88.8%. Yet now the government has rolled out the new Omicron vaccine and is wondering why there are no long queues. Their experts talk about the likely need only for an annual booster when we know current vaccine protectiveness wanes markedly by 4 months.

Some criticize President Biden's statement as an attempt to boost success before the midterm elections. Others say that because his statement is blatantly false, it will depress turnout among young Democrats.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky has been no help, botching messaging on masking. Distribution of vaccines has also been a debacle, with glaring disparities in access. Further, this spring, Walensky said, "We will have a coronavirus that will lead to death in some people every season that we will then tolerate in some way." Most of the "some people" she spoke of are the elderly and those with other health issues. Many are Black, Latino, Indigenous, or people with disabilities.

That Walensky and Biden have given in to the people who want the illusion of normalcy rather than being steadfast, at least in the insistence that (at a minimum) there be masking to protect the vulnerable, nauseates me. I find it particularly disturbing coming from Walensky because, being Jewish and well-educated, I would expect her to know how this echoes the eugenics of the Holocaust and the Nazis' desire to rid themselves of the burden of "useless eaters." If not, I recommend she watch the Ken Burns special on PBS.

One of the other things that irks me is that there appears to have been minimal efforts to improve ventilation in public spaces — something that would help us avoid many infections. It would also help make for a more inclusive society where vulnerable individuals would not have to self-isolate from a society that increasingly demonstrates they are viewed as expendable.

Besides the acute illnesses and deaths, Biden seems to have forgotten the toll of long COVID. The CDC estimates that 20% of adults have long COVID, which they define as persistent symptoms 3 months after the acute infection. Others give higher estimates. Some patients have had symptoms for years, with chronic pain and debility that precludes them from working or resuming their pre-pandemic activities.

A conservative estimate is that 3 million full-time equivalents are being lost due to long COVID, or 1.8% of the workforce. This translates to $168 billion of lost earnings per year.

There was a protest at the White House on 9/19 from the MEAction Network in response to the lack of progress on long COVID and Biden's remarks.

https://twitter.com/MEActNet/status/1571907638601850882?s=20&t=swe88JAxEOnkdSXnEbt2vw

Biden's imprudent statement also ignores that COVID has been mutating and coming in waves. We don't know if there will be another one soon. Expert opinion suggests that we are not prepared.

I would like to think that the backlash from Biden's ill-considered comment will wake the administration up, but I'm not optimistic.

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About Dr Judy Stone
Judy Stone, MD, is an infectious disease specialist and author of Resilience: One Family's Story of Hope and Triumph over Evil and Conducting Clinical Research: A Practical Guide.

She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and now works part-time. She especially loves writing about ethical issues and advocating for social justice. Follow her at drjudystone.com or on Twitter @drjudystone.

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