STERNBERG: Mr. President, COVID Is NOT Over

Column by Dr. Richard Sternberg

Mr. President, COVID Is NOT Over

I like Joe Biden. By that I mean I like him personally. I lived in the state of Delaware, in Sussex County, the southernmost of Delaware’s three counties, between 2000 and 2008. While there are beach communities hugging its eastern Atlantic shore and a small city, Seaford, anomalously hugging its western, most land locked area, the majority of the county is rural. The area is jokingly called Lower Slower Delaware. Many of the people come from families that have been there for 350 years. Most of the land is planted in feed corn for the millions of chickens that are raised there. Perdue is headquartered just across the border in Salisbury, MD and Mountaire Farms is headquartered in Millsboro, DE. Tysons has a very large presence. What I’m trying to say is that this is an area where things are very less formal and life moves a little slower. It’s a small state so the people involved in politics tend to know each other. It’s a state that, at least when I lived there, Democrats and Republicans after the elections got on very well with each other.

I must’ve met Joe Biden at least six times in the eight years that I was there. Twice were for chicken and dumpling dinners above the local fire hall. I spoke to him at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner twice. It wasn’t hard to speak to our senators and our one representative. The Apple-Scrapple Festival (I kid you not), in Bridgeville, was a great place to run into all of them, and I did.

My best Joe Biden story was after the election in 2006, when I ran for the State House of Representatives and lost spectacularly. There is a tradition in Sussex County called Returns Day, two days after Election Day when all the people who ran against each other in the county, including those who are running for state wide offices, ride in convertibles with their opponents in a parade and congregate on a large platform. Then there is a ceremony literally burying a hatchet.

That year, besides the local races, there were races for governor, attorney general, state treasurer, U.S. senator (but Joe wasn’t running that year), and U.S. representative. Anyway, Joe’s son Beau had won the race for attorney general. I had worked with Beau and I like him very much. He was a gentleman, very low-key for a politician, and would serve a year-long tour of duty, including seven months in a combat zone in Iraq.

So, Beau Biden and all the other winners were crammed toward the front of the platform. I was so far in the back that I was almost falling off but directly in front of me was a tall man with thinning grey hair and clearly seen hair plug donor sites in the back of his head. Everyone in Delaware knew who that was. I went up to him and said, “Excuse me sir. I understand that you are Beau’s father. You must be very proud.” Well, he laughed very loudly and long and had a giant smile on his face. I’d like to think he was tickled by the concept that someone would recognize him for something other than being senator, especially for being a proud father.

I like Joe Biden, very much, but IMO he’s dead wrong about declaring the COVID epidemic over. wAuto Show last week, the president was asked by interviewer Scott Pelley if the return of the annual event meant that the pandemic, which had shuttered it for the last three years, had come to a close. The president replied: “The pandemic is over”. He acknowledged that Covid is still “a problem” and said his administration is still “doing a lot of work on it,” but he said everyone at the show “seems to be in good shape” and cited the crowd as an example of how things are changing to a post-pandemic world.

COVID is still out there. Over 400 people a day are dying of it in the U.S. It is still mutating to stay ahead of our efforts to vaccinate it out of existence. We do have better ways of fighting it including drugs, especially Paxlovid, to deal with the illness itself. But people are still catching it. Two close friends of mine who came back from a cruise this weekend brought home COVID. Thankfully, they’re doing fine with only minor symptoms but have to isolate for 10 days. While in the United States the fatality rate of the disease has dropped, it is still significant. 40 percent of all hospitalizations for COVID are now in people who have had a least one vaccination. Yes, we can go back to more activities, but we still have to take precautions we didn’t take before. Yes, the risk to children, especially those vaccinated is low, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who survived the initial disease only to have long-term symptoms. Declaring the pandemic over makes things even harder to get people to use methods to prevent the spread of disease. I would still mask in a crowded theater; I would even mask in a sports stadium where everybody is sitting about 1 1/2 feet from each other. I personally would avoid cruise ships, at least until everybody is vaccinated and is tested before sailing.

I’ve learned I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I’m doing. Based on the fact that many of the instructions we were given initially turned out wrong, I have to disagree with President Biden. The pandemic is not over.

Dr. Richard Sternberg,
retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon, is providing his professional perspective during the COVID-19 threat. Also a village trustee, he lives in Cooperstown.

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