“Americans have declared an unofficial end to the pandemic,” writes Robert Pearl, M.D. for Forbes. “Most people are no longer willing to mask up, keep their kids out of school or avoid spending time with family and friends…. Americans are moving on from Covid-19, whether or not health-policy experts believe they should.”
All over, you say? Someone forgot to tell that to the preschool-aged son of my dear friend and colleague, a 4-year-old who presented with a viciously spiked fever over the weekend. As with nearly 4 million children in the U.S., my colleague’s child is susceptible to seizures if his temperature rises too high. When the seizure set in this time, he became unresponsive and had to be rushed to the emergency room, which fortunately had room for him. As the medical staff worked to reduce his fever, the diagnosis arrived: COVID-19.
But COVID is over, right? And kids are supposed to be safe from it, right? They always just get a runny nose! Right?
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You really can’t peddle the “all this is behind us” bullshit to my colleague with her son in the emergency room this weekend, or to my other coworker whose toddler contracted the virus in February and who had to sit up all night listening as their child labored to breathe.
COVID is not behind us. It is right in front of us and all around us, and the most vulnerable among us are paying the freight for our comprehensive, repetitive national failure to act when proper action could have stalled this seemingly eternal calamity.
The sick and the dying are the price we pay because we seem to enjoy the goddamned arguments more than we can tolerate the solutions. Vaccines became the fodder for profiteers who convinced too many people the medicine had microchips in it. Masks, which are little more than simple Band-Aid-level technology, were shunned across swaths of the country until the dead stacked a million bodies high… and even higher than that, if researchers at the City University of New York School of Public Health have it right:
The United States is now in its fourth-biggest Covid surge, according to official case counts – but experts believe the actual current rate is much higher. America is averaging about 94,000 new cases every day, and hospitalizations have been ticking upward since April, though they remain much lower than previous peaks.
But Covid cases could be undercounted by a factor of 30, an early survey of the surge in New York City indicates. “It would appear official case counts are under-estimating the true burden of infection by about 30-fold, which is a huge surprise,” said Denis Nash, an author of the study and a distinguished professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York School of Public Health.
While the study focused on New York, these findings may be true throughout the rest of the country, Nash said. In fact, New Yorkers likely have better access to testing than most of the country, which means undercounting could be even worse elsewhere. “It’s very worrisome. To me, it means that our ability to really understand and get ahead of the virus is undermined,” Nash said.
It is not just COVID now, either; all the other shoes we were also warned about are now dropping after people spent the last two years putting off medically necessary treatments because the hospitals were slammed with COVID patients. That, and the unrelenting mental and emotional pressure millions still feel despite it all being “over,” is creating a whole new crisis of care across the country. “Scores of health systems say they are dealing with record emergency department volume, sicker patients, a compounding mental health crisis, and an ever-beleaguered workforce,” reports The Boston Globe.
It’s only June, and the warmer weather has in prior years shown itself to be a decently effective barrier against mass infection… but as the Bard was at pains to warn us, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” At present, infection rates are ticking up despite the positive weather, in no small part because of what Katelyn Jetelina has dubbed “The Battle of Omicron.” In short, three variants of the virus are grappling for the title of most infectious, and if this crisis persists into the fall, we could witness yet another detonation in infections. Deadline reports:
Estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [on May 31] indicate that the share of cases tied to Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 increased 79% in the past week. That means, even as the more transmissible BA.2.12.1 Omicron subvariant became officially dominant in the U.S. last week, it’s already being pushed out by newcomers BA.4 and BA.5. The result would seem to be overlapping waves of Omicron.
While BA.2.12.1 gained an advantage by being more transmissible than BA.2 before it, the two newer variants are said to be making inroads at least in part because of their abilities to reinfect…. If true, that means the new variants have a much larger population that they can potentially access via breakthrough infections, where previous variants like BA.2.12.1 produced far fewer breakthrough infections.
As one of many millions who will likely spend the term of my life in a defensive crouch because of COVID, it would be nice to believe the country will finally decide to slay this beast. Our scientific ingenuity combined with deliberate intention cast polio and smallpox onto the garbage heap of history, so why not this?
Well, for openers, there is money to be made and political office to be won by convincing people that all of this is some cruel charade perpetrated by shadowy forces that can somehow be explained by a YouTube video made in Steve Bannon’s basement. Enough people have guzzled the snake oil in the name of party/Trumpian fealty to make any mass effort against COVID an exercise in futility.
So here we sit in the ongoing aftermath of “over,” listening to our children struggle to breathe, watching as seizures render them unresponsive, waiting for an age-appropriate vaccine that will almost certainly turn out to be vulnerable to a variant. This is the new “normal” we’re being asked to swallow, and it is a permanent astonishment.
I used to think we were better than this. I have never been more wrong in my life.