President Biden announced that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Medical experts responded with evidence that this was not the case. Even the White House later revealed that the pandemic had not changed and that all precautionary measures needed to suppress the spread of the virus and its impact on the population remain intact and appropriate.
Whenever the President of the United States speaks, people listen. His voice is amplified and interpreted, often far beyond what he wanted to convey. This is the price you pay when you occupy the Oval Office.
More important than the president’s announcement that the pandemic is over is the actual status of the pandemic.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is around 50,000 per day, with a steady downward trend over the past two months. The number of unconfirmed cases is likely many times higher as people resort to home testing or simply don’t bother testing. This means that transmission in the Community remains high and is likely to exceed the values of the delta variant.
New COVID-19 hospital admissions have also declined in the last two months. People over 70 years of age continue to bear the brunt of the most severe consequences of the virus and dominate new hospital admissions. The available vaccines and boosters have played a crucial role in reducing such approvals.
COVID-19 deaths have also abated, although 350 to 400 deaths per day appear to be the norm. Once again, vaccines have played a crucial role in keeping these figures low.
With so much community transmission, the virus continues to mutate. The once dominant delta variant is far away in the rearview mirror. The omicron variant is now dominant, with the BA.5 subvariant leading the way in the last two months. This appears to be changing as the BA.4.6 subvariant flexes its transmission muscles and is likely to become the new dominant circulating variant within the next six weeks. This creates a number of new risks as each variant and subvariant has its own unique features and clinical effects.
The new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine was recently launched with a bit of subdued fanfare. Many people are tired of vaccines, as evidenced by the slower uptake of boosters in eligible population groups. How well this new vaccine will be preserved remains uncertain.
All of this data suggests that anyone who thinks the pandemic is over hasn’t read the epidemiological tea leaves.
Biden’s announcement can best be interpreted as premature. It could even be wishful thinking on his part, especially as the nation is rapidly approaching the midterm elections and the battle for control of Congress is up for grabs.
In fact, Biden’s statement reflects how the majority of the population is behaving. For many, COVID-19 is nothing more than a bad cold. And for most, the short-term symptoms appear to be that way.
The updated COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) give everyone the freedom to decide for themselves how to behave in the midst of the virus. Everyone must decide how much risk they want to take and what measures they must take to reduce their personal risk. If a person does not feel that they have a personal risk, then, of course, no precautionary measures are necessary. This appears to be the case for the majority of the population.
is most revealing is that the people who are most knowledgeable about medicine and public health are the very people who continue to express concern about COVID-19 and its impact on the population. Conversely, those who most lack the education and expertise to carry out such assessments are treating COVID-19 as a minor inconvenience that may need to be avoided but certainly nothing to worry about.
Excuse me Mr President, you are closer to the second group than to the first. Given how his health advisors were surprised by the explanation, this provides plenty of evidence for this fact. Let us therefore treat his comments with the appropriate credibility they deserve and the views of his health advisors as the true status of the pandemic.
Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a professor of computer science at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As a data scientist, he uses his expertise in data-driven risk-based decisions to assess and inform public policy.