US President Joe Biden said he believes the COVID-19 pandemic is “over,” even as the country continues to see around 400 deaths a day. In a Sunday interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” the President acknowledged the US still has a “problem” with the virus — which has killed more than 1 million Americans — but said that, to his mind, “the pandemic is over.”
The message prompted White House officials to quickly clarify that Biden’s comments did not entail a change of strategy: The US government still designates COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency, although the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) loosened its guidance last month to allow people to get back to most forms of normalcy.
But older people, the immunocompromised, people with certain disabilities or underlying health conditions remain at higher risk for serious illness and may still need to take more precautions.
Biden’s remarks have already received some political blowback. They come just two weeks after his administration launched a campaign urging Americans to get booster shots and renewed efforts to convince Congress to spend another US$22.4 billion on COVID mitigation efforts. However, Republican leaders told CNN they would be less willing to provide funds toward a pandemic that is now “over.”
While some have interpreted Biden’s comments as a cynical intervention ahead of the upcoming US midterm elections, it follows a trend of other optimistic comments from global health leaders. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, suggested last week that the end of the pandemic “is in sight,” noting that the number of weekly reported deaths was the lowest since March 2020. “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic,” he said.
But what does “end the pandemic” mean? Pandemics are not like sports matches — they don’t start and end with a referee’s whistle. The WHO does, however, have a formal way of determining the start and end of a pandemic: An 18-member committee of experts makes the decision, as it has done before with influenza, polio, and other diseases. Still, it’s easier to say when a pandemic starts than when it ends, according to Caroline Buckee, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “There’s not going to be a scientific threshold. There’s going to be an opinion-based consensus,” Buckee told the online journal Science.
Meanwhile, China continues to pursue its zero-COVID strategy, a policy that came under severe scrutiny again this week, after a bus transporting residents to a COVID quarantine facility crashed on Sunday, killing at least 27 people. Authorities said the bus was carrying 47 people from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, to a remote county more than 150 miles away. It overturned on a mountainous stretch of highway at around 2:40 am
Shortly afterwards, a photo widely circulated on social media showed the bus driving at night, with the driver wearing a full hazmat suit with only his eyes uncovered. Another photo showed the crushed truck being sprayed with disinfectant by a hazmat suited worker. According to government data, only two people have died of the virus in the province since the pandemic began, raising further questions about China’s uncompromising policy.
And while China and the US continue to take radically different approaches to the pandemic, a report by the Lancet COVID-19 Commission condemned the world’s response to the disease, calling the death toll — which the WHO says is more than 6.4 million — “both a profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels.” They cited poor government preparation, poor global collaboration, and the influence of disinformation on citizens who resisted public health precautions.
IN OTHER NEWS
• A recent study of more than 6 million people 65 years and older found those who had COVID-19 had a substantially higher risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease within a year of contracting the virus. The study does not prove that COVID is a cause of Alzheimer’s, but it furthers previous research which links Covid infection and cognitive function.
• Former first lady Melania Trump was “rattled by the coronavirus and convinced that Trump was screwing up,” according to a forthcoming book. Trump recalled telling her husband, “You’re blowing this,” as she tried to convince him to take the pandemic more seriously. “This is serious. It’s going to be really bad,” she said, according to the book from New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker and New Yorker staff writer and CNN Global affairs analyst Susan Glasser. “You worry too much,” she recalled the President saying, who dismissed her concerns and said: “Forget it.”
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: Is there a link between COVID and mental health?
HAS: You may have up to a 50% higher risk of developing long COVID if you suffer from common psychiatric issues, a recent study found.
People who self-identified as having anxiety, depression or loneliness, or who felt extremely stressed, were more likely to experience long COVID, according to the study, published this month in the medical journal, JAMA Psychiatry.
Symptoms of long COVID can include breathing problems, brain fog, chronic coughing, overwhelming fatigue, changes in taste and smell, and difficulties in performing daily life functions that can last months — even years — after the infection has cleared the body.
Keep up to date with your COVID vaccines this fall, especially if you are 50 or older.
That’s because the virus continues to pose a risk to people in this age group, who have been disproportionately affected by severe COVID outcomes.
Between April and June, people 50 and older accounted for the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations (86%) and in-hospital deaths (96%), according to a CDC study published Thursday.
Additional CDC data shows that even for those 50 and older who got two of the original boosters, risk of hospitalization was less than a quarter of what it was for those who were unvaccinated in July. A single dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine is recommended at least two months after completing the initial two-dose vaccine series or your most recent booster.