Life In The Time Of COVID: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Life In The Time Of COVID

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

On Monday evening, January 30, the White House announced that the COVID-19 emergency will end on May 11. The emergency, which was initially declared by President Donald Trump in 2020, has been renewed every 90 days since. If the Biden administration simply fails to renew the current 90-day declaration, the emergency would lapse in April rather than May. The White House stated that an “abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty through the healthcare system for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans.”

This announcement came soon before a scheduled vote in the House of Representatives on a bill called the Pandemic is Over Act. This bill would have declared an immediate end for pandemic related emergency measures, including financial support for vaccinations, testing, and treatment, and would place COVID in the same category as any other illness. This bill would pass the House but die in the Senate (pure party lines and political theater).

Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), House of Representatives majority leader, said “Rather than waiting until May 11, the Biden administration should join us now in immediately ending this declaration.”

The White House stated that the emergency is no longer needed, since COVID is no longer among the top five killers of Americans. Nevertheless, it kills more than 500 people a day in the U.S. and its territories, 50 percent greater than lung cancer, which is the most fatal cancer.

Ending the emergency will create many changes in the fight against COVID. The elimination of free services and treatment, and the reclassifying of COVID in terms of hospital reimbursement could lead to chaos. Having to pay out of pocket will not only affect those who are in the lower income levels but will also affect the decision-making processes of those with higher incomes as to whether it’s worth spending the money for testing and treatment. The end of the emergency will probably decrease the number of people wearing masks.

Patients with Medicare have been able to get eight free home testing kits per month. This will end, and the number of tests done by individuals when they suspect infection will certainly decrease. Vaccines and Paxlovid will be costly to people depending on their health-care insurance.

What does this mean to us locally? In reviewing the most recent state of New York Department of Health Data, the County of Otsego Department of Health Dashboard and the New York Times Tracker, I am getting some apparently conflicting data. The state says Otsego’s positive testing rate is 16.7 percent, higher than all contiguous counties except Herkimer, which is slightly higher. The county DOH Dashboard says we have a new case rate of 0.1 percent and a substantial transmission rate. The Times Tracker says we have a new case rate of 17 per day. Possibly more important at this stage in the disease is hospitalizations and death, which the Times reports as 0.17 deaths per day per 100,000, or approximately one death every 10 days. It looks as though, until there is a new breakout strain, we should be in a good position.

It’s clear that COVID has not been eliminated or even brought down to the fatality level of influenza, which averages between about 100 to 200 a day depending on various factors such as severity of the prominent subtype and whether the annual vaccine had a component against the prominent subtype.

I believe we should continue the precautions and vaccinations with new boosters constantly being developed for the specific subtypes that are most prominent at that time. I’m going to continue to wear my mask in theaters and areas where there are many people. What are you going to do?

Dr. Richard Sternberg is a retired Bassett Healthcare orthopedic surgeon.

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