World The One Number That Will Signal the Pandemic’s End
The Five Fallacies That Hamstrung Our Response to COVID-19
The assumptions made by public officials, and the choices made by media, too often backfired.One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
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In the middle of January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, one day after inauguration, the Biden administration put out a comprehensive national strategy for “.” The 200-page document includes many useful goals, such as “Restore trust with the American people” and “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.” But nowhere does it give a quantitative threshold for when it will be time to say, “Okay, done—we’ve beaten the pandemic.”
COVID Truthers’ Impossible Hatred for Dancing Nurses
As the COVID-19 pandemic started truly exploding in America last March, health-care workers spoke out about the strains the disaster was placing on the medical system. The pain and urgency of their stories of overburdened staff and waves of death were powerful and palpable. But many frontline doctors, nurses, and other medical workers still found the time and energy in those grim early weeks to make a slew of dance videos, some large and well-choreographed, which they shared on social media.
A month later, it’s time to get specific. The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more thanof vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?
The problem is that the “” means different things in different contexts. The World Health Organization first declared a “ ” on January 30, 2020, holding off on labeling it a “pandemic” until March 11. The imposition (and rescinding) of these labels is a judgment made by WHO leadership, and one that can reflect murky, . Regardless of what WHO decides (and when) In the meantime, national governments—and individual states within the U.S.—have to make their own determinations about when and how to reopen their schools and loosen their restrictions on businesses. I reached out to prominent public-health experts to find out which epidemiological criteria ought to be met before these kinds of steps are taken.
Scott Morrison posted pictures of his COVID-19 vaccination on Facebook. And then the anti-vaccine commenters appeared
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week became one of the first Australians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. His vaccination unleashed a wave of anti-vaccine misinformation on Facebook.You can read the latest edition below, and to have the next newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.
The most obvious interpretation of “beating COVID-19” would be that transmission of the coronavirus has stopped, a scenario some public-health experts have hashtagged #ZeroCOVID. But the experts I spoke with all agreed that this won’t happen in the U.S. in the foreseeable future. “This would require very high levels of vaccination coverage,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious-disease specialist at NYU who served on Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force during the transition. The U.S. may never reach vaccination rates of 75 to 85 percent, the experts said.
“The question is not when do we eliminate the virus in the country,” said Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center and an expert in virology and immunology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rather, it’s when do we have the virus sufficiently under control. “We’ll have a much, much lower case count, hospitalization count, death count,” Offit said. “What is that number that people are comfortable with?” In his view, “the doors will open” when the country gets to fewer than 5,000 new cases a day, and fewer than 100 deaths.
Vaccine nationalism: Why hoarding COVID jabs may prolong pandemic
UN chief has criticised global distribution, noting that 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccine doses. “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community,” he said. On Friday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the UN-backed COVAX vaccine sharing initiative, designed to provide doses to lower-income countries. Below, Al Jazeera takes a look at vaccine hoarding and its effect on the global fight against COVID-19.
That latter threshold, of 100 COVID-19 deaths a day, was repeated by other experts, following the logic that it approximates the nation’s average death toll from influenza. In most recent years, the flu has killed 20,000 to 50,000 Americans annually, which averages out to 55 to 140 deaths a day, said Joseph Eisenberg, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. “This risk was largely considered acceptable by the public,” Eisenberg said. Monica Gandhi, an infectious-disease specialist at UC San Francisco, made a similar calculation. “The end to the emergency portion of the pandemic in the United States should be heralded completely by the curtailing of severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19,” she said. “Fewer than 100 deaths a day—to mirror the typical mortality of influenza in the U.S. over a typical year—is an appropriate goal.”
The “flu test” proposed here is not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 are directly reported to public-health authorities, while the mortality numbers from seasonal flu arebased on national surveillance data that have been fed into statistical models. But researchers believe that the straightforward counts of influenza deaths—just in recent years—are ; while direct counts of COVID-19 deaths are likely to be more accurate. One big reason: Far more COVID-19 tests are done than flu tests , and flu tests have a greater tendency to .
State Legislature to Revoke Andrew Cuomo's Pandemic Powers, Limiting Executive Order Abilities
The state legislature granted Governor Cuomo's expanded emergency powers last March to aid his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the photo above, Cuomo walks through a vaccination site after speaking in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on February 22, 2021. The Tuesday announcement by state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, came after weeks of controversy surrounding the state's reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
In any case, we are nowhere near 100 COVID-19 deaths a day. Since last spring, no state has reported, as measured by a rolling seven-day average at the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. Right now, the country as a whole is still reporting close to 2,000 deaths a day, and just two weeks ago that number was more than 3,000. So, if we’re going by the flu test, we still have a very long way to go.
Some experts were even more conservative. Crystal Watson, a health-security scholar at Johns Hopkins University, suggested a threshold of 0.5 newly diagnosed cases per 100,000 people every day, and a test-positivity rate of less than 1 percent. That would translate to fewer than 2,000 cases a day in the U.S., compared with the current 60,000 or more. We’d also want to log at least one month of normal hospital operations without staff or equipment shortages, she said.
While every proposed threshold remains far below what we’re seeing right now, the researchers I spoke with believe that if vaccine uptake is high enough, those numbers can be reached. Watson suggested a target of 80 percent coverage for populations older than 65, and 70 to 80 percent for everyone else. For the latter, “perhaps 60 percent is more realistic,” she said.
With Cuomo, Newsom Under Siege, DeSantis Shines in Biden-era COVID Fights
A Republican congressman recently said the Florida governor would be a "strong potential presidential candidate" for the 2024 election cycle.DeSantis, who remained an ally of former President Donald Trump throughout Trump's time in office, faced heavy criticism last summer for resisting statewide lockdowns as COVID-19 raged throughout his state and the rest of the country.
So far, no state has reached those vaccination levels in any population. It is possible, however, that in specific, high-risk subpopulations, targeted efforts could drive vaccination rates to very high levels. Our best example is in long-term-care facilities, which have been linkedof total COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. The federal government’s vaccine rollout made residents and staff in these facilities a priority and provided specific funds and operational help to vaccinate these people beginning in December. At the COVID Tracking Project, we’ve seen the over the past six weeks, which suggests the vaccines are working.
The large number of Americans who’ve already been infected will also be crucial for reaching transmission-slowing levels of immunity. The CDC estimates thathave been infected with COVID-19, far more than the official, confirmed case total of 28 million. Forty-four million Americans have . Even assuming some overlap between the previously infected and the vaccinated, perhaps 100 to 120 million Americans have some level of immunity. That’s roughly one-third of the population.
It could take months for the size of this group to reach a point where the number of COVID-19 deaths a day falls below 100. Until then, we’ll be confronted with a different sort of risk: that, for some, the pandemic feels like it’s over long before it actually is. Just as the country has never taken a unified approach to battling COVID-19, we may very well end up without a unified approach to deciding when it ends. That’s why public-health experts are desperately urging Americans to hold firm even as the pandemic seems to be receding. “We’re lifting mitigation measures too soon,” warned Gounder, the infectious-disease specialist at NYU. “We’re taking our foot off the brake before putting the car into park.” If enough people ignore that message and decide the pandemic is over for them, it may very well put off the moment when we can say that the pandemic is over for everyone.
Democratic State Senators Say the Time is Right to Revoke Andrew Cuomo's Emergency Powers .
Fourteen Democrats in the New York State Senate have called for Governor Cuomo's expanded emergency powers to be revoked. In the photo above, Cuomo speaks at a news conference on September 8, 2020 in New York City. Republicans in the state legislature have been asking for Cuomo's expanded emergency powers to be revoked for months, but their calls to do so recently received support from a handful of Democratic lawmakers.