In an interview televised yesterday, President Joe Biden told 60 minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that the COVID-19 pandemic was in our rearview. He said, “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. 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…”
So, is this finally our new normal?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seems to be signaling a shift, or maybe a settling in, with the new set of guidelines they posted last month. The six-foot social distancing standard and quarantine rule for the unvaccinated were dropped, schools no longer need to screen apparently healthy individuals, and the isolation period for those that test positive is down to five days from ten unless your fever persists. The mask recommendation remains through day 10, however, as does avoiding the vulnerable.
If you are interested, the CDC COVID Data Tracker has a ton of data and trends to explore. The overall picture it paints currently supports this view of steady decline. New cases in a majority of states average less than 10,000 over the last 7 days and the number of new hospitalizations and deaths has stayed consistently low since April of this year. There are still some hot spots, what the CDC labels as a high COVID-19 community level, but the number of those is modestly declining as well. Aside from protecting the most vulnerable, the biggest issue now seems to be those struggling with persistent symptoms of long COVID. According to a new study from the City University of New York, as many as 21% of Americans who caught the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer ended up suffering from long-term symptoms like brain fog and debilitating fatigue These symptoms are keeping many from working.
Many countries are responding to the positive data trends by lowering travel restrictions. As of June, U.S. citizens returning from abroad no longer need to provide a negative COVID test to return home. Many destinations have dropped mask mandates on public transportation and proof of vaccination at public events. There are still some countries that require proof of vaccination and/or negative antigen testing for foreign travelers (including the US), and some places are pretty serious about your compliance. Canada’s travel website warns that if you fail to submit your travel and proof of vaccination (required to skip testing and quarantine) using their official app, ArriveCAN, you could be fined $5,000!
Looking around, it does feel like we are all adjusting to living in a post-pandemic world. I think it helps to remember that there were many positive changes born from the necessities of these past two and ½ years. Widespread access to telehealth services, Zoom and the ability to work remotely, an explosion of home delivery services, and the development of mRNA vaccines are just a few on the list.