President Joe Biden said on CBS’s 60 minutes that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. He went on to say that the work is not done yet on COVID-19, either.
The question that is being asked of many experts is whether the COVID-19 pandemic is really over.
The quick answer is I do not believe so, but the more thoughtful answer is a bit more complicated.
Recently, I discussed this viewpoint in a West Virginia MetroNews Talkline segment.
A pandemic is defined as an infectious disease epidemic that spread across the world. There is an exponential spread component to a pandemic, as well. Because of the worldwide spread of the infectious agent, pandemics are also associated with social and cultural disruption, economic impact and disruption of normal life for citizens. Examples of pandemics are COVID-19, the 1918 influenza outbreak, the plague in the 16th century and HIV/AIDS before anti-retroviral therapy.
An epidemic, on the other hand, occurs when an infectious disease infects a number of people in a restricted geographic area causing an outbreak. The general hardship experienced by people in these defined areas does not impact the sociocultural, economic or normal activities for those outside of these areas suffering the spike in infection. Examples of epidemics include SARS, MERS, bird flu, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, and certain outbreaks of influenza and polio.
Endemic disease is one in which there is a predictable spread of an infectious disease agent in a population that may occur in particular seasons. Examples of endemic disease include malaria, seasonal influenza and other coronaviruses.
How about COVID-19?
It is true that we have seen a general decline in severity of outcomes for people in the world from COVID-19. Although the Omicron BA.5 variant is the most infectious form of COVD-19 to date, the world’s population has gained immunity either from infection with recovery or through vaccination. This immunity is certainly having a positive impact on disease severity.
In fact, over 40% of total cases of COVID-19 have occurred since the beginning of 2022 with the BA.5 variant, but hospitalizations and deaths have not spiked, as was true in previous new variant infections.
It is estimated that more than 90% of Americans over 16 years of age have some immunity to COVID-19.
So, is the pandemic really over?
We are still averaging about 400 deaths a day from COVID-19, which is the equivalent of having a mostly full 747 airline crash every day. We have lost over 1 million people in the US from COVID-19 and over 220,000 this year in the United States. Globally, we have lost 6.5 million lives.
While the Omicron BA.5 has been a more stable variant form of COVID-19, we have seen new variants emerge quickly to cause additional problems. We are not out of the woods from the perspective of new variants, yet.
But the most important reason to maintain the current pandemic nomenclature and our vigilance is that we have treatments that can protect virtually all citizens from dying with COVID-19 with vaccines and medications.
And, this is not the time to imply that this pandemic is over. Choosing vaccination and choosing the Omicron booster shot, for those eligible, will save lives. Continuing testing for those with symptoms and receiving treatment with Paxlovid and other medications for those that test positive with higher risk of hospitalization or death saves lives.
While there is no absolute definition to how we de-escalate referring of COVID from a pandemic to an epidemic, many of us are fatigued and traumatized.
We have lost many and much from this pandemic.
But we do not have to lose more.
We have the ability to save more lives. Protect more families and communities.
Let’s continue to pull the rope in the same direction and answer the call to help protect West Virginia.
As we have done and as we do.
Let’s show the world why we are called Almost Heaven.