The coronavirus already has killed 1 million and counting in this country. But is that painful reality persuasive enough to get Americans, especially cantankerous politicians, to heed new federal warnings that the pandemic not only isn’t over but that it could surge anew this fall and winter with as many as 100 million new infections — and who knows how many more fatalities?
Republicans, of course, argue that this is just the Biden Administration crying wolf to get Congress to provide billions of dollars more to battle the pandemic.
GOP lawmakers contend that the government has gotten plenty already, and it has demanded that Washington go back on its already promised pandemic aid allocations to states, counties, cities, and other local governments to find the money to fight the virus. Republicans also have tried to fan divisive flames by denying further pandemic funds by tying this request to the contentious issue of immigration. They have done so by questioning an administration plan to end pandemic-related restrictions for asylum seekers at the nation’s borders.
The pandemic uptick is rising
While the dickering dawdles on, the pandemic is far from dying away. As the New York Times summarized the virus’s latest state:
“Reports of new coronavirus cases have doubled in the past month as Omicron subvariants have spread across the country. Cases are increasing in all but seven states and territories, and in more than a dozen, the daily case average is twice as high today as it was two weeks ago. Some places, including Hawaii, Maine, and Puerto Rico, have seen recent case counts approach or surpass the levels seen during last year’s Delta surge. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, driven primarily by increases on the East Coast. Just over 18,000 people are in American hospitals with the coronavirus each day, an increase of 20% from two weeks ago.
“The full impact of this surge is believed to be even greater than these numbers suggest. Since many infections go uncounted in official case reports, the roughly 68,000 cases currently announced each day likely capture only a portion of the true toll … Fewer than 400 deaths are being announced each day on average, down from more than 2,600 a day at the height of the Omicron surge.”
As the newspaper touches on in its précis, a growing concern among experts is the coronavirus’s persistent, speedy mutation with new variants overtaking less-successful predecessors and becoming ever more infectious, though, for now, not necessarily more deadly.
Pessimism about the outlook for fall and winter
But even forecasts, based on existing Omicron variants, paint potentially problematic months ahead, the Washington Post reported, quoting experts and an unidentified but ranking administration official who discussed the research that prompted the federal warning of as many as 100 million infections in the days ahead:
“In forecasting 100 million potential infections during a cold-weather wave later this year and early next, the official did not present new data or make a formal projection. Instead, he described the fall and winter wave as a scenario based on a range of outside models of the pandemic. Those projections assume that Omicron and its subvariants will continue to dominate community spread, and there will not be a dramatically different strain of the virus, the official said, acknowledging the pandemic’s course could be altered by many factors. Several experts agreed that a major wave this fall, and winter is possible given waning immunity from vaccines and infections, loosened restrictions, and the rise of variants better able to escape immune protections.
“Many have warned that the return to more relaxed behaviors, from going maskless to participating in crowded indoor social gatherings, would lead to more infections. The seven-day national average of new infections more than doubled from 29,312 on March 30 to nearly 71,000 Friday, a little more than five weeks later. ‘What they’re saying seems reasonable — it’s on the pessimistic side of what we projected in the covid-19 scenario modeling run,’ said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. ‘It’s always hard to predict the future when it comes to Covid, but I think we’re at a point now where it’s even harder than normal.”
The New York Times reported the scenario of how yet another pandemic surge could sweep the country:
“The official predicted the next coronavirus wave in the United States would begin this summer in the South, with a significant number of infections as people move indoors to escape the heat. In the fall, it would begin to spread across the rest of the country, particularly the north, although the spike in cases would not be as steep.”
By the way, lest there be doubters as to the pandemic’s persistence, skeptics locally simply can look to the recent “nerd prom,” aka the White House Correspondents Dinner to see how a big, relaxed, indoor social occasion becomes a super spreader event — yes, even though attendees were required to show proof of vaccinations and boosters and a few wore masks. And even before the WHCD, the Gridiron Dinner also produced its own outbreak of infections.
Still hold doubts about the coronavirus and warnings of its potential harms? Just consider the New York Times report that finds another collateral effect of infection continues to garner attention and more evidence of its veracity — the coronavirus may affect sexual performance.
Being cautious, still
We are not done with the pandemic — and the coronavirus doesn’t care how casual we wish to be about the death and debilitation it can cause. The World Health Organization says nations have vastly under reported the virus’ toll, which the group estimates has cost 15 million people around the planet their lives.
Those with heightened vulnerability to the illness — those who are older, immunocompromised, overweight, and with underlying conditions, or individuals from hard-hit communities of color — still should stay careful, including by keeping on their masks. And, yes, so-called one-way masking has protective benefits. Face covering, just to remind, may be the requirement still in parts of the country.
A word to the wise: Don’t toss out those masks yet. The savvy will want to build up their supply, nabbing test kits, too (free from the federal government, including a second round of them, and delivered to your door). Just in case.
The vaccines remain life changers and life savers. Why aren’t more nursing home staff getting them still, notably with an unusually high number of them having received questionable exemptions? If you have not gotten your shots, please do so, boosters and all, pronto.
Regulators have imposed new restrictions on use of the Johnson and Johnson one-shot vaccine due to worries about rare blood clot issues. Just to be clear: They develop quickly after vaccination and, as the New York Times reported, “The [federal Food and Drug Administration] said 60 cases of a rare but serious blood-clotting disorder have been identified, including nine deaths, out of about 18 million doses administered.”
If you haven’t chatted with your doctor for a bit, you should — especially about whether your individual health would benefit from an additional dose of vaccine and when might be the time to get it. Parents should discuss potential booster shots for their kids with their pediatricians. (Get the young folks caught up on their shots now if you can, too.) If you have been exposed or think you have gotten infected, please get tested — and quarantine or isolate to protect yourself and others.