The pandemic is not done with us; let’s quit pretending otherwise

These days, wearing a COVID-protective mask in South Mississippi will get you some strange looks, if not hostile glares. After all, case counts are down, as are hospitalizations, and, most importantly, deaths from the virus. Vaccination rates, if not what they should be, are relatively high, and the current consensus seems to be that the community as a whole at this point enjoys widespread immunity. Government health officials assure us that the virus is now “endemic,” pretty much like any other flu bug, rather than “pandemic.” So, the COVID scourge is pretty much over, isn’t it?

Not so fast. New reporting data suggest that COVID infection rates have stopped declining, and in fact are picking up as the latest variant, Omicron BA.2 – believed to be at least as infectious as BA.1, and still more dangerous – takes hold in parts of the country. Based on prior experience in both the U.S. and Europe, we have to assume that case rates across the country, and with them the “lagging indicators” of hospitalizations and deaths, will soon commence to rise rapidly in turn.

This development in itself might not be quite so alarming but for the startling fact that the U.S. has deliberately dismantled most of what little protective infrastructure, including systematic surveillance and reporting, that it had put in place since March of 2020. And it has done so for the wrong reasons. The following is from a March 23 editorial statement in the journal Nature: “The pandemic might have taken upwards of 18 million lives, disabled many more than that and gut-punched the global economy, yet surveillance and reporting of the virus’s movements are starting to slow just at a time when a highly infectious subvariant of Omicron, Ba.2, is spilling out across the world… These cutbacks are not based on evidence. They are political, and they could have disastrous consequences for the world.”

Do we really believe we can afford to fly blind into the next phase of the pandemic? The nation is rejecting science in favor of magical thinking – If we just cover our eyes, the reality scaring us won’t be there any more. No evidence-based profession, least of all social work, can rest easy with such a ridiculous and self-destructive strategy.

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