- President Biden made headlines when he said that the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
- While cases are far lower than at the height of the pandemic, the disease is still spreading and hundreds of deaths are reported daily.
- We talked to experts about whether they agree with Biden that the pandemic is over.
On Sunday, President Biden told 60 Minutes that the pandemic was over, although we still have a “problem” with COVID-19.
“We’re still doing a lotta work on it,” he told CBS’ Scott Pelley. “It’s– but the pandemic is over. if you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, there were 15,258,467 cases reported in the past 28 days, worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently reports an average of 355 daily U.S. deaths from the pandemic virus.
Healthline spoke with experts to find out whether they agree with the president’s statement.
Dr. Theodore Strange, chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, part of Northwell Health in New York said a pandemic is in retreat when a viral illness no longer seems to be “predating at a rapid rate,” and seems in control within given communities.
“It means that the disease in question is still around but that it’s at a level that is not causing significant disruption in daily lives within a community and or country,” he explained. “The flu season every year is an example of this.”
While Strange agreed that the pandemic could be over in the U.S. – there may still be disease spread in other countries, which define the term differently or have another level of disease activity.
“It appears that COVID is currently in a steady state and probably in a declining phase and definitely with decreased morbidity and mortality rates,” he continued. “Also treatments, therapeutics and vaccinations have markedly helped to take the USA out of the pandemic phase of this disease and place it into an endemic phase.”
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When experts refer to a disease being endemic, they are referring to a baseline level of disease or expected level of disease in a population. In this case, the disease does not spread rapidly enough to deplete the number of people affected so it could burn out. Instead, this disease can in theory spread indefinitely in this population.
Dr. Supriya Narasimhan, MS (Epi), division chief, infectious diseases, hospital epidemiologist, and medical director, infection prevention at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, explained that changing the status of COVID-19 is not any one country’s decision.
“Individual governments can decide if the disease activity in their country merit restrictions or public health measures,” she said. “But the end of the pandemic is typically a decision made by the WHO (World Health Organization).”
The WHO officially
Narasimhan emphasized that data show test positivity rates, hospital admissions, and deaths from COVID 19 are on the decline – and have been much lower despite easing several public health measures.
However, she cautioned that “we have seen this ebb and flow with COVID activity before.”
“The good news is that BA4/5 Omicron specific bivalent boosters are being rolled out which is promising,” said Narasimhan. “But there is a lot of booster fatigue in countries where it is available. In other parts of the world, we have yet to achieve vaccine equity and high rates of vaccination.”
She pointed out that newer variants of this virus can be unpredictable in terms of infectivity and immune escape (when they do an end run around the human immune response).
“Therefore, we do not know if a newer variant with greater infectivity and more immune escape will emerge in any part of the world and cause a new peak of infections in the months to come,” she cautioned.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, an expert on post-COVID long haulers syndrome and author of “From Fatigued to Fantastic“, said there’s no clear-cut borderline to determine whether a pandemic has ended.
He explained that one way is to look at the amount of deaths and hospitalizations from the virus relative to all other causes, but it’s not necessarily the most important way.
“[It’s] simply applying the science combined with common sense to determine when aggressive treatment measures cause more harm than the disease itself,” said Teitelbaum.
President Biden declared the pandemic over in a recent interview, and pointed out that people aren’t masking as often and seem in “pretty good shape.”
Experts agree that the pandemic seems to be retreating, and new boosters against Omicron are being rolled out that should further improve the situation.
They also caution that we’ve previously seen the virus ebb only to return as a newer variant that could cause a new peak of infections.