President Biden boldly claimed in an interview over the weekend that the pandemic was over, but public health experts — and US statistics — seriously questioned these remarks.
Coronavirus cases and deaths in the US have fallen steadily in recent weeks following a slight increase due to the BA.5 omicron subvariant.
However, tens of thousands of new cases are still registered every day, hundreds of Americans are still dying from the virus every day, and the enthusiasm for vaccinations is all but stagnating.
In his “60 minute” interview, Biden acknowledged that the US still has “a problem with COVID,” but pointed out that people were not wearing masks at the event he attended as proof that the COVID-19 pandemic phase is over.
He tried to retract the remarks on Tuesday and said the pandemic was “not where it was.”
But he has kept the core of his argument: COVID-19 has reached a new, less difficult phase.
Many have been waiting for the pandemic to become endemic.
For a virus to be considered endemic, it would still exist in communities, but it would not have a serious impact on medical providers and healthcare systems.
Available information paints a picture of a country that is making progress in fighting the outbreak, but is anything but clear.
While cases are on the decline, they’re still far from the lowest they’ve ever had during the pandemic.
COVID-19 case rates are currently at a seven-day moving average of around 55,000 cases per day, a significant drop from the hundreds of thousands of infections observed earlier this year when the omicron wave reached its peak.
That rate is still more than twice as high as in the US in April before BA.5 gained dominance.
Since the start of the pandemic, case rates reached their lowest level in June 2021, when they fell below 12,000 per day for a few weeks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is currently assumed that half of all US counties have low COVID-19 community levels. A further 36 percent of counties have an average COVID-19 community level and 13 percent have a high community level.
result, half of the nation’s communities are in a place where wearing masks is still recommended by the CDC in some situations, particularly for people at high risk of serious illness.
Deaths and hospital stays
Coronavirus-related deaths and hospital stays have continued to fall since mid-summer, suggesting a concomitant decline in the number of people seriously ill with COVID-19.
Cases have also dropped coronavirus-related deaths to a seven-day moving average of less than 400. Apart from a slight increase in deaths due to the spread of BA.5 over the summer, deaths have remained relatively low in recent months — even though they were lower at earlier stages of the pandemic.
Virologists and public health officials have previously said that the end of the pandemic will not be marked by a specific metric. However, 300 to 500 deaths per day are still a cause of concern and caution among stakeholders.
Thousands of hospital admissions due to COVID-19 are still being registered by the CDC, with the current seven-day average of more than 4,000 per day.
According to the latest data from the Ministry of Health and Human Services, more than 30,000 inpatient hospital beds are being used for COVID-19 patients, representing between 4 and 5 percent of all inpatient beds used.
Almost two years after COVID-19 vaccines were first used in the USA, only about two thirds of the population was vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The majority of those who have been vaccinated continue to rely on the protection provided by the first two doses. During the pandemic, immunity to both previous infections and vaccinations has been observed to decline over time, with health authorities recommending a booster shot following an initial vaccination.
As the US goes into fall and winter, airborne pathogens such as flu and COVID-19 are generally expected to have higher transmission rates.
While vaccinations and therapeutics make infections less likely to become severe cases, an infected person still poses a risk to others, particularly those who are immunocompromised.
“Getting yourself vaccinated protects not only you, but also all vulnerable populations around you,” said Daniel McQuillen, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
McQuillen estimated that around a quarter of the population isn’t as protected from COVID-19 as they could be. And he reiterated that infected people could infect several others, which could prolong the spread of the virus.
“They affect both the existence of communities and the existence of the medical community, as these people will also take up outpatient space and time from other people,” McQuiston said.
During the pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was an unforeseeable pathogen.
Numerous new varieties have appeared around the world, which have led to new fluctuations in the USA.
The BA.5 omicron subvariant accounts for 85 percent of coronavirus cases in the country. The BA.4.6 subvariant has recently begun to increase in prevalence and currently accounts for 10 percent of cases.
The World Health Organization only lists one variant of concern, the Omicron variant. But health experts have routinely warned against assuming they know how the virus will change.
C. Brandon Ogbunu, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting professor at MIT’s Department of Chemistry told CNNBreakingNews that it would be wrong to behave as if the SARS-CoV-2 virus had run out of new variants and found that a similar mistake was made during the delta wave of cases.
“Even if we never see a new variety again in the next century, it would still not be advisable to say that there is no other variant,” said Ogbunu. “I don’t think we’ve seen anyone in a while, which is encouraging, and certainly encouraging for our biomedical and public health measures… but it’s unwise to reach a global conclusion about what’s possible or not.”
Biden’s claim on Sunday sparked surprised responses from several experts and public health stakeholders, with many raising concerns that his remarks had inadvertently sent the wrong message.
Ogbunu said he felt Biden’s statement was made for “political purposes.”
“Since I knew how words were perceived, I thought it was irresponsible and inaccurate,” he said. “I think from the definitions I use for a pandemic, I’d say we’re at a different point in the pandemic than we were. I think we’re at a point where we have useful tools to reduce transmission and treat patients, but I wouldn’t say the pandemic is over.”
“I understand what he was getting at, but he didn’t say it in a way that was very helpful,” McQuillen said of Biden’s interview. “If you want to be very specific in the definitions and all of these things, that’s not right. The pandemic is not over yet. It’s just in a slightly different phase.”
“The fact that the government is still trying to get support for vaccinations and other therapeutics and testing from Congress to the community is a reflection of how they really think,” McQuillen added, pointing to urging from the Biden government that Congress is spending billions of dollars more in COVID-19 aid money.
But other public health experts refrained from saying directly that Biden was wrong.
Robert Wachter, doctor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said he did not know whether the pandemic was over and called this claim a “verdict decision.”
„Aber die Bedrohung ist eindeutig weitaus geringer als zuvor, die Menschen haben die Mittel, um ziemlich sicher zu bleiben (obwohl viele sich dafür entscheiden, dies nicht zu tun), und irgendwann müssen wir von einer Notfallbasis zu einer nachhaltigen langfristigen Strategie übergehen“, sagte Wachter.