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Biden’s comments on the pandemic widen the public health divide on how the US should respond to covid-19

“We still have a problem with covid. We’re still working hard on it,” he told correspondent Scott Pelley.

“But the pandemic is over,” he repeated.

The timing of the president’s comments was surprising: Just two weeks after his administration launched a campaign to urge Americans to receive booster shots against the latest strains of Covid-19 at the same time they get their annual flu shot. . Health officials also recently renewed their efforts to convince Congress to spend another $22.4 billion on Covid mitigation efforts.

Biden’s statement has created another split-screen moment in an effort to get Covid-19 under control. Some public health experts worry that political motives are driving the president’s desire to declare the pandemic over, rather than protect public health. Others say the president is right and the acute phase of the pandemic is over, even as the country continues to grapple with a high burden of disease.

On average, more than 400 Americans are still dying each day from Covid-19, a number that hasn’t changed much in about three months. according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of the week of September 9, COVID-19 was the second leading cause of death in the US, according to to estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

“In a week, it’s the Twin Towers, right? It’s 9/11, week after week after week,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.

Excess deaths and mortality from Covid remain higher in the US, per capita, than in other wealthy nations. And we’ve had a significant drop in life expectancy, she says.

“According to any appreciable epidemiological data point, the pandemic is not over,” Gonsalves said.

One problem that contributes to the confusion is that the definition of a pandemic is soft. In the simpler terms, a pandemic is an epidemic that occurs throughout the world and affects a large number of people. It is not up to any one person or organization to declare an official beginning or end for you.

“I think it’s kind of a term of art,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There are no criteria or some checklist that you do.”

The World Health Organization recognizes a global health threat as something different: a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC. The United States also recognizes a public health emergency.

Covid-19 is still considered a public health emergency both nationally and around the world.

An administration official told CNN Monday that Biden’s comments do not mark a change in policy toward the administration’s handling of the coronavirus and that there are no plans to lift the public health emergency, which has been in place. since January 2020 and now lasts until at least October 13.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has promised to give states 60 days’ notice before finalizing the emergency declaration, something it has yet to do.

Still, Gonsalves says he was dismayed by the president’s claim that the pandemic was over, especially in the fall and winter.

“We are terribly under-driven and under-vaccinated in this country,” he said. “What kind of message does it send to say ‘the pandemic is over’ when you want someone to shoot themselves, both in the primary series and in the booster series? And you probably want to get some money out of Congress to do it?”

Biden’s comments align with a recent Axios/Ipsos Survey showing that most Americans feel there is little risk in going back to their pre-Covid lives. The survey found that the proportion of people who say they have resumed normal activities is at the highest point since the start of the pandemic, at 46%.

“I know that the president is receiving a lot of criticism. In fact, I agree with him on this,” Adalja said.

The end of the Covid-19 pandemic is in sight, says WHO director-general, 'so let's seize this opportunity'

“To me, it’s about having the tools to shift infections to the mild side and not seeing any concerns about hospital capacity, and we haven’t seen any concerns about hospital capacity in the United States for some time,” he said.

Adalja says that people who criticize the president do not understand what it means to be in a pandemic.

“Just because the president says this is not a pandemic doesn’t mean everything stops,” he said. “And it doesn’t mean that everything has to be done directly with funds from Congress.”

The administration has said it intends to stop buying vaccines, tests and treatments, moving those things to the commercial market.

What many public health experts fear, however, is that when the president says the pandemic is over, people hear that Covid-19 is over, and that’s not the case, said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert. who runs the Center for Infectious Diseases. Disease Research and Policy from the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm fears that message will only undermine efforts to vaccinate and stimulate people, promote access to testing and treatment and, yes, get them to wear masks in areas where Covid-19 transmission is high.

“Why would people now want to go get their booster shot if the pandemic is over?” she asked.

Osterholm says that in his estimate, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still too high to say the pandemic is over. We also don’t know which variants of the virus might emerge or how our immunity will hold up against them.

“I don’t think people really understand what the implications of this virus are,” Osterholm said. “We all want the pandemic to end, but you can’t make it go away just by making a political decision.”

CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.


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