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Biden's comments on the pandemic widen the public health divide over how the United States will respond to Covid-19

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Even as the United States braced for a possible winter surge of Covid-19, President Biden roamed the cavernous halls of the Detroit Auto Show for an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and, in a nod to the unmasked attendees, told the nation, “The epidemic is over.”

“We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on that,” he told reporter Scott Bailey.

And he repeated: “But the epidemic is over.”

The timing of the president’s remarks was astonishing: just two weeks after his administration launched a campaign to urge Americans to get booster doses against the latest strains of Covid-19 at the same time as they get their annual flu shot. Health officials also recently renewed their efforts to persuade Congress to spend another $22.4 billion on COVID mitigation efforts.

Biden’s ad created another split-screen moment in the effort to stop Covid-19. Some public health experts worry that political motives are driving the president’s desire to declare the pandemic over, rather than protecting public health. Others say the president is right and that the acute phase of the pandemic is over, even as the country continues to grapple with a significant burden of disease.

On average, more than 400 Americans still die each day from Covid-19, a number that has not changed much in about three months, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of the week of September 9, Covid-19 was the second leading cause of death in the United States, according to estimates by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“In a week, that’s the Twin Towers, isn’t it? It’s 9/11, week after week after week,” said Greg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.

Excess deaths and deaths from Covid are still higher in the United States, per capita, than in other wealthy countries. As he says, we’ve seen a significant reduction in life expectancy.

“By any notable epidemiological data points, the epidemic is far from over,” Gonçalves said.

One problem that contributes to the confusion is that the definition of a pandemic is squishy. In simpler terms, a pandemic is an epidemic that occurs worldwide and affects a large number of people. No one person or organization has the right to announce the official beginning or end of one of them.

“I think it’s kind of a technical term,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There are no standards or checklists that you do.”

The World Health Organization recognizes that a global health threat is something different: a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC. The United States also recognizes a public health emergency.

Covid-19 continues to be considered a public health emergency both locally and globally.

An administration official told CNN Monday that Biden’s comments do not represent a change in policy toward the administration’s handling of the coronavirus and that there are no plans to lift the public health emergency, which has been in place since January 2020 and is now operating at least. Until October 13.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has promised to provide 60 days’ notice to states before ending the emergency declaration, something it has not yet done.

However, Gonçalves says he is upset by the president’s assertion that the pandemic is over, especially in the fall and winter.

“We suffer from a huge lack of support and vaccination in this country,” he said. “What kind of message are you sending to say ‘the epidemic is over’ when you want anyone to shoot a gun, whether it’s the initial chain or the boosters? And you probably want to get some money from Congress to do that?”

Biden’s comments are consistent with a recent Axios/Ipsos poll that shows most Americans feel there is little risk of returning to their pre-Covid lives. The survey found that the proportion of people who say they have resumed their normal activities is at its highest level since the start of the pandemic, at 46%.

I know the president receives a lot of criticism. “I agree with him on this,” Adalja said.

“For me, it’s about having the tools to turn the infection to the mild side and not seeing any concern about hospital capacity, and we haven’t seen concerns about hospital capacity in the United States for some time,” he said.

Adalja says people who criticize the president misunderstand what it means to be in a pandemic.

“Just because the president says this isn’t a pandemic doesn’t mean everything just stops,” he said. “This does not mean that everything must be done directly with funding from Congress.”

The administration said it intends to stop buying vaccines, tests and treatments, and to shift those things to the commercial market.

What many public health experts fear, said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert who directs the Center for Infectious Infections, is that when the president says the pandemic is over, people hear that Covid-19 is over, which isn’t quite the case. Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm fears that this message only undermines efforts to vaccinate and boost people, boost access to testing and treatment and, yes, get them to wear masks in areas where the Covid-19 virus is spreading.

“Why would people now want a booster dose if the epidemic was over?” Asked.

In his estimation, Osterholm says, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still too high to say the epidemic is over. We also don’t know what types of virus can emerge or how our immunity will hold up.

“I don’t think people really understand what the implications of this virus are,” Osterholm said. “We all want the pandemic to end, but you can’t get rid of it just by making a political decision.”