November 11, 2021

Is the pandemic coming to an end? Experts disagree.

Daily Briefing

    Some health experts have recently touted the potential end of the Covid-19 pandemic. But Covid-19 cases are still surging in some states—including Colorado, which invoked crisis standards of care in hospitals on Tuesday.

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    Covid-19 cases on the rise in some states

    Overall, the United States is averaging around 74,000 new Covid-19 cases per day—a 4% rise over the past two weeks, Axios reports.

    According to Axios, if CDC's definition of a "low" rate of Covid-19 transmission—an average of fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 people a day—was applied at a national level, only four states would qualify as having low rates of transmission. Meanwhile, nearly 40 states have average infection rates between 10 and 50 new cases per 100,000 people daily.

    In particular, Colorado has seen an 18.8% increase in daily Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to Axios. As a result of the surge and anticipated staff shortages, the state on Tuesday announced it activated crisis standards of care.

    Activating these crisis guidelines allows hospitals to maximize the care they can provide with the staff they have available, the Associated Press reports, allowing health systems to alter the ratio of staff to patients. Notably, the crisis standards of care do not apply to emergency medical services, hospitals and acute care facilities, outpatient care providers, or personal protective equipment, The Hill reports.

    The state's chief medical officer Eric France noted residents should not avoid "necessary health care." And while the state's health department is permitting elective procedures, hospitals can decide to suspend them if necessary to reallocate staff.

    According to state data, nearly 40% of hospitals expect staff shortages within the next week. In addition, more than a third of hospitals said they expect a shortage of ICU beds within the next week.

    Currently, the state has 72% of its hospital beds occupied, including 12.6% with Covid-19 patients, according to HHS data. In the ICUs, 85% of beds are full, with 35% occupied by Covid-19 patients. And just over half of the critical care ventilators in the state are currently occupied.

    Is the Covid-19 pandemic coming to an end?

    In an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he believed the coronavirus pandemic is "close" to an end in the United States.

    In particular, Gottlieb highlighted two recent developments that he believes will prevent another surge in cases. First, Covid-19 vaccines are now available to children as young as five years old. Second, Gottlieb said we will have "[a] widely available or orally accessible drug that could treat coronavirus at home to prevent people from being hospitalized or dying," noting that there are "two of those potential pills, one from Pfizer and one from Merck, and there will be more behind that."

    "I think that we're close to the end of the pandemic phase of this virus, and we're going to enter a more endemic phase and as things improve, cases may pick up. ... But that doesn't mean we're entering into another wave of infection," Gottlieb added.

    However, other health experts have said this viewpoint is premature. Michael Osterholm, from the University of Minnesota, estimated that 70 million Americans are still at risk from the coronavirus.

    "There is more than enough human wood for this coronavirus forest fire to burn," he said.

    Andy Slavitt, former senior advisor for Covid-19 response for the Biden administration, said in a tweet that "[o]ne too many smart people [have] told me or said on TV this week that the pandemic is over." Slavitt noted that "[t]here are still 1,200 people dying every day," from Covid-19. "That's a rate of 440,000 deaths/year," he said.

    "The signs [of the pandemic ending] people look at aren't really signs," Slavitt added. "To be clear, when cases dip it's not over. When boosters come, it's not over. When kids are vaccinated, it's not over. When therapies are approved, it's not over."

    Instead of declaring the end of the pandemic, Slavitt argued that "[t]he more productive conversation is one of tools—tools to reduce infections, tools to reduce deaths, tools to live life, to attend school, to be safe. All THAT is increasingly possible with quick tests, masks, credentials, shots, and new medicines." (Baker/Beheraj, Axios, 11/11; Coleman, The Hill, 11/10; Associated Press, 11/10)

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