The Covid-19 crisis is approaching the second anniversary of the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration on March 11 – and many people are now eager to know when and how society can return to what we used to consider normal.
In the United States, the White House has stated that federal officials are “thinking about” what comes next after the country transitions out of the current Covid-19 emergency and into a more normal state of affairs – but officials have yet to release a plan for that transition. “Right now, our focus is on fighting Omicron,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said at a news briefing last week when asked if the White House would provide guidance on how a transition might look.
He didn’t say anything about when or what kind of guidance might come next.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated at the briefing that it is unclear when that transition, into a phase in which Covid-19 has less of an impact on people’s daily lives, will occur.
“We have to be completely honest about the fact that we don’t know,” Fauci said. “We believe we are finally on the right track,” he added. “The best-case scenario, as I and my colleagues have frequently described, is that with the tools that we have — vaccination, boosting, testing, masking, and all the other mitigations that we are aware of — when you have a level of community protection, which is the level of immunity throughout the community, we will reach a stage, and I hope sooner rather than later, when this will not dominate our lives.”
According to Johns Hopkins University data, Covid-19 cases were down 43 percent from the previous week as of Monday, and infections were trending down in nearly every state. The data also showed that hospitalizations last week fell 19% from the week prior, and new hospital admissions were down — a promising sign that the downward trend will continue.
However, federal officials have been tight-lipped about any plans to lift certain Covid-19 policies and return to some semblance of normalcy.
Meanwhile, some leading public health experts and state governors have urged the release of such plans as soon as possible.
State officials and public health experts want to know when, based on metrics like community transmission or hospital rates, we can declare the pandemic over and lift restrictions, as well as which mitigation measures should be lifted first as communities transition out of the pandemic and into a more normalcy state. Some public health officials, including CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have cited Covid-19 hospitalization rates as a metric for determining when certain Covid-19 restrictions should be lifted.
However, Benjamin of the American Public Health Association hopes that the country is experiencing a “lull” in the Omicron wave right now in order to develop guidance on how to proceed.
For example, one scenario could be the emergence of a more virulent variant, resulting in subsequent lockdowns, while another could be Covid-19 evolving into an endemic seasonal disease that no longer overwhelms health systems and quietly circulates at low levels – endemic means a disease has a constant presence in a population but does not affect an alarmingly large number of people, as seen in a pandemic.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at the White House last week that a bipartisan group of governors told President Joe Biden that the country needed to “move away from the pandemic,” and that they asked for “clear guidelines” on how to return to “what we used to think of as normal.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, stated that while the US is “not close” to the end of the pandemic, governors want clearer guidance on when mitigation efforts should be scaled back.
Several other countries, including Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, have begun to lift some Covid-19 restrictions, but the World Health Organization has warned that declaring victory over the coronavirus is premature.