With hospitalizations decreasing, reproduction number plunging, and vaccinations working, serious public health officials should end to COVID restrictions sooner rather than later.
A year ago, President Donald Trump essentially shut-down the country for two weeks to “flatten the curve.”
Americans were given to understand that the real goal was not to swamp the hospital system with critically ill patients. Considering citizens give selflessly of themselves during emergencies, most of us were willing to sacrifice for 14 days in hopes that fatalities would be reduced.
Fifty-two weeks later, I think it is an excellent time to ask the question: When can we declare that the pandemic is over?
Unfortunately, the experts are not clear on the parameters that are to be used. However, as we have experienced “flu pandemics before” yet still have flu cases, it might be time to evaluate how close we are to the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?
The problem is that the “end of the pandemic” means different things in different contexts. The World Health Organization first declared a “public health emergency of international concern” on January 30, 2020, holding off on labeling it a “pandemic” until March 11. The imposition (and rescinding) of these labels is a judgment made by WHO leadership, and one that can reflect murky, tactical considerations. Regardless of what the WHO decides (and when), national governments—and individual states within the U.S.—have to make their own determinations about when and how to reopen their schools and loosen their restrictions on businesses.
Perhaps it is now time to start forcing experts to define realistic infection and hospitalization numbers. According to epidemiologists, three parameters are key in this analysis:
A variety of metrics could indicate that the country is getting the pandemic under control, including the number of new daily cases and the number of deaths. But epidemiologists say three specific metrics are required to get a clear understanding of the country’s overall response: the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations, the virus’s so-called reproduction number and the number of vaccinations administered.
Looking at hospitalizations, the news is very encouraging. These are the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
This week’s national ensemble predicts that the number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions will likely decrease over the next 4 weeks, with 1,300 to 6,500 new confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions likely reported on April 12, 2021.
The state- and territory-level ensemble forecasts predict that over the next four weeks, the number of daily confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions will likely increase in 2 jurisdictions and decrease in 22 jurisdictions, which are indicated in the forecast plots below. Trends in numbers of future reported hospital admissions are uncertain or predicted to remain stable in the other states and territories.
The reproduction number represents the potential for one sick person to spread the infection.
The lower the number, the better — and less than 1 is best.
A reproduction number above 1 means one sick person is likely to pass the virus on to at least one other person, said Dr. Richard Medford, the associate chief medical informatics officer at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. (A reproduction number of 2, for example, means one infected person will pass the virus on to two other people.)
The news here is very good. A detailed analysis of the country shows that most of the reproduction numbers are below 1.
Here are some specific numbers from the analysis of the reproduction number nationwide, and arguably, they make a strong case that the end of the pandemic in near.
Finally, a look at vaccinations across the country shows that the successful program is making a serious dent in coronavirus infections and their impact.
In the first month of the rollout, an estimated 78 per cent of nursing home residents were vaccinated, according to a study last month by the CDC. Since then that number has continued to rise, according to those working in the sector, who say they think that in many homes almost all residents have now received at least one shot.
Government data show that cases and deaths among nursing home residents started to fall around a week after the rollout began, even as both cases and deaths across the country as a whole continued to climb.
In the following two months until the end of February, cases among nursing home residents dropped 96 per cent, while deaths fell 87 per cent.
During the same period, cases among people aged 18-54, the least likely group to have been vaccinated, fell by 72 per cent, while deaths dropped by 80 per cent.
Over 110 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed. And while the press may try to gin up panic about “variants,” indications are that the vaccines are also effective against them. Furthermore, up to 16 million Americans already have acquired immunity by getting asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
In conclusion: If we focus on the epidemiological parameters and not Dr. Anthony Fauci’s interviews, it is clear that serious-minded policy makers should expect to declare the end to pandemic-level protocol soon…perhaps as early as April, as has been suggested by a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.DONATE
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