So, Need We Worry About COVID anymore?

Kisha Smith
For the most part, the markings of a deadly global pandemic have all but disappeared. People have put away their masks along with the six-feet distancing protocol and freely attend crowded events and eat out while lawmakers have ended COVID-19 restrictions.  Just last month, the U.S. ended its COVID emergency declarations following an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) that COVID-19 was no longer considered a global public health emergency. Still, some things have not changed. You still can’t cough in a crowded gathering or in a grocery store without people raising an eyebrow and for some, six feet of distance has been adopted as their personal space and masksAll in all, things appear to be getting back to normal…but is COVID gone? Medically speaking, hospitalizations have gone way down and the number of new COVID -19 cases is declining, even as Omicron variants kill—on average—200-300 people a day.And while that number may sound high, a great many medical professionals see the end of the COVID pandemic as being in sight.“The last year or so really feels like new variants are a little scary and then they turn out not to be that big a deal. And so, I think, if past is prologue, that’s likely to be what happens with this newest variant,” reports Dr. Robert Wachter, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco. The latest Omicron variant making the rounds under the close watch of the World Health Organization is “Arcturus”. Accounting for ten percent of COVID-19 cases worldwide, it’s more transmissible than its predecessors, but doesn’t appear to be more dangerous. “The state of COVID, at least as far as I can tell, feels reasonably mild compared to what we’ve seen in the past three years, and remarkably stable,” Wachter added.  The stability is largely due to the immunity acquired through both infection and vaccinations. But for as much as things have improved, the scars of the pandemic remain, as does the threat of another pandemic. In fact, doctors warn that a new more deadly variant could change everything in an instant.
 “If everybody in the world got the common cold at the same time, it would be a big deal,” said William Hanage associate professor of epidemiology, co-director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics told the Harvard Gazette last year. “That’s the thing about a pandemic of this nature. It’s not so much the individual fatality rate; it’s the fact that a respiratory virus is capable of infecting lots of people very quickly. And that means — as with Omicron — flight crews all go down at the same time because they tend to hang out with each other. Same thing with health care workers on a particular ward. Same thing with teachers.”Better treatment and treatment options have made a big difference in the fatality rates, but doctors say it’s important to remember that COVID can still cause illness, severe complications and long-term health issues even in mild cases, particularly for those over 60.
Long COVID remains a huge concern for health professionals, although the risk of getting it is between 5%-20%.“Although living with the threat of COVID-19 is seen by many as the new normal, the debilitating effects of Long COVID for both patients and members of the medical community are just coming into full view,” said Robert Otto Valdez. Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.Long COVID is broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after initial COVID-19 infection, with people experiencing persistent, varying, and potentially disabling health impacts. While estimates vary, up to one-third of people with COVID-19 infections may experience Long COVID. Further, many underserved, rural, vulnerable, or minority populations with Long COVID face additional non-medical barriers that can exacerbate the impact of Long COVID, such as lack of insurance coverage and long distances to medical specialty care. Experts still advise that the best way to avoid long COVID is to get vaccinated and boosted, stay vigilant—washing hands and wearing masks as necessary and testing. The pandemic may be coming to a close, but doctors say COVID is sticking around.
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