Monday, September 26, 2022

Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Over? 3 experts weigh

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President Joe Biden’s declaration that “the pandemic is over” raised eyebrows and frowns from some experts, who think such a message could be premature and counterproductive.

But for many Americans, who have long since returned to pre-COVID-19 activities and are now being forced back into the office, the remark may ring true.

The problem is that “back to normal” can differ from person to person, depending on the individual’s circumstances and how they judge the pandemic to be over. The Conversation asked three scientists from different parts of US society affected by the pandemic – public health, education and economy – to rate how “over” the pandemic is in their world. This is what they said:

Lisa Miller, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

President Biden has answered the question of whether the pandemic is over with a resounding “yes,” but that’s not a black-and-white question.

It is true that the US is in a very different place than the country was a year ago thanks to widespread immunity to vaccines and infections. But as an epidemiologist, I think the ongoing occurrence of between 350 and 400 deaths a day in the US and hundreds of deaths a week in other countries around the world still constitutes a pandemic.

I understand the need facing Biden as a public figure to try to explain succinctly where the country is and offer some hope and reassurance, but public health professionals still find themselves in a situation where which no one can predict how the virus will mutate and evolve. These mutations can make the virus less dangerous, but it’s also possible that the next variant is more harmful.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call the current situation – COVID-19 still poses a significant, ongoing risk to the world. Pandemic or not, it’s important to continue investing in the development of improved vaccines and the readiness of the medical and strengthen public health systems. As COVID-19 progresses, decision makers risk losing sight of these important goals.

William Hauk, Associate Professor of Economics, University of South Carolina

As an economics researcher, I can speak about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and its ongoing impact.

And the good news is that the worst of the pandemic’s impact on the economy ended some time ago. After rising to a post-war high of 14.7% in April 2020 as the ravages of the pandemic took their toll, the unemployment rate has stayed at or below 4% for all of 2022, the first time the number of employed people in the US has peaked exceeded before the pandemic.

While the labor market has largely recovered, there are still economic impacts from the pandemic that the US will feel for some time to come.

Supply chain difficulties remain in some key areas such as computer chips. While we would have expected stronger recoveries in this area, geopolitical issues such as the war in Ukraine continue to pose problems. As a result, a full recovery may not materialize for a while, hampering efforts to combat higher inflation.

Finally, many Americans may be re-evaluating their work-life balance as a result of the pandemic. Aggregate labor force figures suggest the “big resignation” may be more of a job restructuring. However, the rise of “silent quitting” — the phenomenon of employees limiting their productivity and not “going above and beyond” — may lead many to conclude that workers are not as intrinsically motivated by their work as they were before COVID-19.

So while the “pandemic” phase of COVID-19 may be over for the economy, the rise of a new normal could be seen as the beginning of an “endemic” effect. That means we are no longer in an emergency situation, but the “normal” to which we are returning may differ in many ways from the pre-COVID world.

Wayne Au, Professor of Education, University of Washington, Bothell

While it’s true that public schools may have largely returned to “normal” operations in terms of waiving mask requirements, returning to using high-stakes tests to measure teaching and learning, and attendance policies, schools are still with it not finished pandemic.

The trauma caused by the pandemic that many students have been facing at home – from the deaths of friends and family, the effects of a long COVID, isolation and anxiety brought on by parental job insecurity and unequal access to health care – are living in them as they attend class today.

Many students have to relearn how to deal with each other in personal, social and academic environments. Additionally, students in low-income families are still trying to overcome the consequences of unequal access to resources and technology at home during distance learning.

The gaps in educational outcomes are now the same as before the pandemic and occur at the intersection of race, class and immigration. Just as the pandemic has exacerbated socioeconomic inequalities in general, it has similarly widened pre-existing educational inequalities.

In addition, the pandemic-related strains on teachers and districts have created staff shortages across the country, leading to increased instability of learning in schools and classrooms.

These problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic and may affect students – mostly from low-income backgrounds – in the years to come.The conversation

By William Hauk, Associate Professor of Economics, University of South Carolina; Lisa Miller, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campusand Wayne Au, Professor of Education, University of Washington, Bothell

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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