Commentary: Is the COVID-19 pandemic really over? | Opinion

President Joe Biden explained his thoughts on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in an interview with “60 Minutes” last month. “The pandemic is over. … We still have a problem with COVID. We are still working on it a lot. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one is wearing a mask. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape, so I think that’s changing.

Leaving aside for a moment whether the pandemic is indeed over, a breakdown of this statement reveals some truth – the pandemic is changing – and some fiction – not everyone is fit enough, and there has problematic consequences. What if you have to wear masks? It’s a complicated question.

While the pandemic is in a different phase than it was two and a half years ago, calling it “over” displays a level of optimism that impinges on some facts. The United States will see more than 250,000 COVID-19 deaths this year, according to changing numbers, fewer than in the previous two years, but still a considerable number. This number is forward-weighted – there were more deaths in the first half than there will be in the second half – but even in the second half of 2022, the total number of American deaths from COVID-19 will approach 58. 000 of the 10 -year Vietnam War.

There is another alarming factor to consider: the overall excess all-cause mortality. In other words, how many people died in addition to the number of people who would have died in a typical year? This metric continues to rise, not only in the United States but in most European and Asian countries. The expected pattern after most pandemics is for the number of excess deaths in an area to decrease, probably because the sickest people died during the pandemic, but that is not happening now.

No one knows exactly why excess deaths are increasing, but it’s likely the result of several factors: the consequences of a previous COVID-19 infection, including blood clots and heart problems; the underestimated social chaos of the pandemic, such as homicides, suicides, alcoholism and drugs; and strain on the healthcare system resulting in delayed diagnoses and responses to serious and ultimately life-threatening conditions unrelated to COVID-19.

Whatever the causes, the abundance of excess deaths has shown no signs of ending and American life expectancy continues to decline, a reversal of a century-old pattern.

Equally disturbing are the consequences of the long COVID-19, the health problems that patients experience for months after contracting COVID-19. These difficulties can arise even after a mild COVID-19 infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Older adults are less likely to have long COVID than younger adults. Nearly three times as many adults aged 50 to 59 currently have long COVID than those aged 80 and over. A new report published by the prestigious scientific journal Nature is of particular concern. In a survey of more than 150,000 veterans, one year after COVID-19 infection, there was a noticeable increase in neurological and musculoskeletal problems, including strokes, cognitive impairment and memory and new mental health disabilities.

As the president noted, fewer people are wearing masks now. Based on declining case counts nationwide, the CDC recently downgraded its recommended infection control measures, including waiving the mandatory use of face masks in healthcare settings. The CDC now says facilities in areas without high transmission can “choose not to require” all physicians, patients and visitors to wear a mask. Many disagree with these recommendations and continue to enforce mask mandates.

Hospitals and clinics are obviously a special situation. These are high-risk places, and although those who work there do not need to wear masks where there are no patients, such as in staff meeting rooms and lobbies, it seems intuitively obvious that in certain areas such as chemotherapy units, wearing masks remains a reasonable transmission precaution. Other people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness may benefit from masking in crowded indoor settings.

Biden first declared independence from the pandemic on July 4, 2021, even as a delta-variant surge emerged that would end in more than 150,000 cases and 2,000 deaths per day by the end of this summer. President Donald Trump’s earlier predictions of the pandemic’s demise have yielded an equally fruitless outcome.

Rather than listen to the presidents, we’d better throw the question to one of the great academic thinkers of film from the 1978 film “Animal House” – John “Bluto” Blutarsky, played by John Belushi.

Sure, Bluto’s Faber College GPA was an unimpressive 0.0, but make no mistake. He knew what he was talking about when he said, “Finished? Did you say “finished”? Nothing is over until we decide it.

Dr. Cory Franklin is a retired intensive care physician. Dr. Robert Weinstein is an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

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