End of the COVID-19 Pandemic: So Close and Yet…

Though spring is in the air and we’re all anxious to get our old lives back, we’re not quite out of the COVID-19 woods yet.

The adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger doesn’t apply in medicine and it certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to COVID-19. True, many people who get COVID-19 and recover become naturally immune to the disease—at least for a while. But scientists have yet to pinpoint just how long that immunity lasts and COVID-19 survivors should still get vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Then, there’s the issue of the long-haulers. Important questions remain unanswered about them at this point, including the question they’re most likely to ask themselves: Why them? Medical experts don’t know yet. They don’t actually know how many people suffer from long-haul COVID-19. And no one knows how long long-haul COVID-19 can last, though researchers in the United Kingdom say that COVID-19 symptoms for 1 in 10 people who’ve recovered from the coronavirus can last for at least 12 weeks. The symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, and digestion problems. In other words, long-haul COVID-19 can be debilitating and, as an article in STAT reports, even with health insurance coverage, medical bills for treating long-haul COVID-19 can be thousands of dollars.

STAT reports that “medical centers across the country are opening clinics specifically for people with lingering Covid symptoms, aiming to harness the expertise of specialists ranging from pulmonologists to physical therapists to neurologists.” Those medical centers—such as the Cleveland Clinic’s reCOVer clinic and Penn Medicine’s Post-Covid Assessment and Recovery Clinic—are few and the wait lists are long.

In the United States, vaccination rates soar. The Biden administration yesterday celebrated achieving its goal of administering 200 million doses in its first 100 days. But there have been some hiccups with vaccinations, as well, including problems with the vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. The issue of vaccine hesitancy continues to concern medical experts. Anywhere from 80% to 90% of the US adult population would need to be immune from the disease in order to reach herd immunity. That won’t happen if the number of those who are on the fence about getting a vaccine remain on the fence, according to an analysis released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Within 2 to 4 weeks, according to the analysis, there will be more vaccine on hand than people who want to get vaccinated. “Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed,” the KFF analysis states.

Not that vaccinations are not having an effect: COVID-19 deaths are about 700 a day, way below the 3500 to 4000 that we saw in depths of the winter surge.

But vaccination and death rates aren’t the only metrics to watch. In the last week of February, the US averaged 65,686 new COVID-19 cases per day. Now, we’re averaging 64,814 new cases per day, according to Johns Hopkins University. In that time, about 65 million vaccine doses were administered.

As Axios reports: “You would think that doubling the number of vaccinated Americans would produce at least some decline in coronavirus’ spread. But that hasn’t happened….” The case count “leaves the door open to more new variants, which could cause COVID-19 to stay with us for years, in varying degrees of severity.”

Which segues into the next point: One of the many messages that COVID-19 drove home is that when medical experts talk about a global pandemic, they’re not kidding. What happens in Wuhan, China—or any other place in the world, for that matter—doesn’t stay there.

Things look pretty horrible in India, as yesterday it broke the record previously held by the US, a record that no country wants: the highest number of COVID-19 infections in a day. India reported 314,835 cases yesterday, edging out the 314,312 cases the US recorded December 21, 2020. According to Johns Hopkins University. About 184,000 people have died from COVID-19 in India and its second wave is much deadlier than the first, and medical experts don’t know why.

But they’re watching the COVID-19 variants closely.