Image source: BBC
The United States is preparing in the event of a potential COVID-19 surge, but President Biden has reassured people that the pandemic is over.
Last weekend, Biden walked around the halls of the Detroit Auto Show for an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” gesturing to maskless attendees and telling the nation that the worst was over.
“We still have a problem with Covid,” he told correspondent Scott Pelley.
“But the pandemic is not over.”
Biden’s words came across as striking for some, as his administration launched a campaign two weeks earlier urging people to get booster shots.
The call for the booster shots against the latest COVID-19 strains came at the same time they got their annual flu shot.
Meanwhile, health officials recently renewed efforts in convincing Congress to fork out $22.4 billion on Covid mitigation efforts.
President Joe Biden’s declaration divided sentiments in the efforts to curb COVID-19.
Some public health experts shared concerns that political motives inspired his declaration rather than putting the public’s health in front.
Others agree with Biden in that the acute phase of the pandemic is over despite the United States still dealing with a high burden of disease.
Covid in the United States
On average, more than 400 Americans die from COVID-19.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the number has remained unchanged in over three months.
According to estimates from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, COVID-19 has been the second leading cause of death in the country.
“In a week, that’s Twin Towers, right?” said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.
“It’s a 9/11, week after week after week.”
He added that excess deaths and Covid mortality are higher in the US than in other wealthy nations.
“We’ve had a significant dip in life expectancy,” Gonsalves continued.
“By any appreciable epidemiologic data points, the pandemic is not over.”
Pandemic definition confusion
There is still some confusion over the definition of pandemic in the United States.
Breaking it down, a pandemic is an epidemic happening worldwide, affecting a large number of people.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said:
“It’s sort of a term of art. There’s no criteria or some checklist that you make.”
The World Health Organization acknowledges a global health threat is something different — a public health emergency of international concern or PHEIC.
The United States also recognizes a public health emergency, and COVID-19 is still considered a public health emergency domestically and globally.
On Monday, an administration official said Biden’s comments don’t mark any changes in the policy towards handling the coronavirus.
They also said there are no plans to lift the public health emergency, which has been up since January 2020.
The US Department of Health and Human Services promised to give a 60-day notice to states before ending the emergency declaration—an action that has yet to be done.
Reaction to Biden’s declaration
Despite the official’s words, Gonsalves expressed dismay regarding Biden’s assertion that the pandemic is over, especially as winter is coming.
“We are terribly under-boosted and under-vaccinated in this country,” he said.
“What kind of message does it send to say ‘the pandemic is over’ when you want anyone to get shots into arms, both primary series and boosters? And you want to probably get some money out of Congress to do it?”
However, a recent Axios/Ipsos poll aligned with the US President’s comment as it showed most Americans feel there is little risk if they return to their pre-Covid lives.
The poll showed that the number of people who have resumed normal activities is at its highest since the onset of the pandemic (46%).
“I know the President is taking a lot of criticism,” Adalja chimed in. “I actually agree with him on this.”
“To me, it’s about having the tools to shift infections to the mild side and not seeing any concerns about hospital capacity,” he added.
“And we have not seen hospital capacity concerns in the United States for some time.”
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.