Friday 4 February 2022

It's time to get back to normal life! Harvard medical professor joins chorus demanding US finally drops COVID restrictions as cases fall 40% in a week and deaths flatten

 Calls for the United States to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over and return to 'normal life' are growing, as cases have dropped 40 percent nationwide and it seems that all 50 states are past the worst stages of the Omicron surge that started late last year. But despite the growing sentiment, federal health officials have been slow to lift mandates.

The U.S. is averaging 361,072 cases per day, a far fall from the 800,000 cases per day at the peak of the Omicron surge in mid-January.

Dr Stefanos Kales, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical school, told CNBC this week that the government made mistakes early on by choosing to value the opinions of infectious disease experts over all others during the early stages of the pandemic.

'I think what we saw is the danger of turning over public policy and public health recommendations to people who have had their careers exclusively focused on infectious diseases as opposed to public health in general,' he said.

Last month, he published an article on LinkedIn calling for pandemic-related measures to be focused on the vulnerable instead the population as a whole. While some people with comorbidities that put them at risk of serious complications from the virus still do need some safeguards, the average healthy, vaccinated, person is totally OK, he said.

'We badly need to allow the general public, particularly the young, to get back to normal life,' he wrote.

'... It is like trying to stop a snowstorm by catching each and every snowflake, rather than keeping the roads open by plowing.' 

Kales also noted that Omicron could potentially be the final stage of the virus's pandemic phase. Many experts are predicting that after the variant totally burns out across the population, which it may have done already, it will transition into an endemic phase, where humans can live alongside the virus with little disruption to every day life.

'Many reasoned, outspoken and honest scientists have been making the point that COVID-19 is moving rapidly from a 'pandemic' … to an 'endemic' respiratory infection comparable to the common cold and flu,' he wrote. 

Iowa may soon join the growing list of states - mainly red states concentrated in the U.S. south and the Midwest - that are deciding to move past the pandemic themselves. Gov Kim Reynolds announced earlier this week that emergency orders related to the pandemic will expire February, and will not be renewed.

As a result, Covid data trackers run by the state will be shut down and case and death data will be reported weekly rather than the current schedule. Effectively, the virus will be treated the same as the flu. 

Many states will have their emergency declarations end at some point this month or the next - which marks the two year anniversary of the pandemic - and each governor has a big decision to come that could be an inflection point for the future of Covid in America.

Declining cases may be coming at the right time as well. Current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that cases are now decreasing in 49 of 50 states - with Maine being the lone outlier, though the state likely reached its peak of the Omicron surge a few weeks ago. This means that this surge likely already peaked everywhere in America.

Despite this, the federal regulators have been slow to lift restrictions at the national level. On Wednesday, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, mentioned that Americans are 'anxious' to return to 'normal', but hospitalization and death data prevented her from pulling the trigger just yet.

'We really do have look to our hospitalization rates, and our death rates, to look to when it's time to lift some of these mitigation efforts,' she said. 

Covid hospitalizations in America are down 18 percent over the past two weeks, with 130,000 virus positive Americans receiving treatment every day. The figure is misleading, though, since many people who are receiving treatment for another condition and test positive while present at the hospital are added to the tally.

Last month, Massachusetts health officials revealed that around half of the state's Covid hospitalization total was made up by people who were receiving treatment for something else.

Deaths, a metric that often lags a few weeks behind cases, have begun to stagnate as well. Daily deaths in the U.S. have steadied around 2,400 a day after peaking at the start of the month at over 2,500. The current average of 2,441 is a seven percent increase from the 2,280 total last week. 

European governments are only building pressure upon American officials by lifting measures in their own nations. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced this weeks that her country would 'open' on February 9, with all pandemic related measures to be lifted soon.

'The pandemic is not over but has entered a totally new phase,' Andersson said during a news briefing Thursday morning.

Both Denmark and the UK, both nations that were struck hard and fast by the Omicron variant and the end of last year have opted to lift all pandemic related measures as well and declare the countries 'open' once again. Norway and Switzerland have both laid out reopening plans as well.

In the UK in particular, cases are down 14 percent over the past week, down to under 90,000 per day after peaking at over 180,000 per day in early January.

English officials are even planning on scrapping daily data collecting all together in the near future, as the figures may no longer be necessary in the nation as cases and deaths are expected to fall to extremely low numbers.

Daily Covid cases are finally starting to drop in the final cluster of northwestern states that were still experiencing the worst of the Omicron surge. Montana and Idaho are finally trending downwards, with cases down six percent and seven percent respectively.

Minnesota, also one of the stragglers, is seeing cases start to fall off dramatically, with cases now down 27 percent over the past two weeks. Alaska (cases down seven percent over the past two weeks), Washington (19 percent) and North Dakota (40 percent) are reporting drops as well.

Along the east coast, cases have drown dramatically. Maryland has experienced a 74 percent drop in cases over the past two weeks after experiencing a massive surge in December. In New York and New Jersey - the two hardest struck states by Omicron at the end of last year - are experiencing case declines of around 70 percent as well. 

A cluster of northeastern states that once were among those leading the nation in infection rate are now among those with the lowest daily rates as well.

Maryland is averaging 32 new daily cases per every 100,000 residents, the lowest of any state. Connecticut (46 per every 100,000 residents testing positive daily), New York (49), New Jersey (50), Pennsylvania (66), Delaware (73), Massachusetts (73) and Maine (74) are all recording low rates.

A cluster of Midwestern states who experienced Omicron surges after the east coast are finding themselves drop to the lowest rates in the nation as well.

Ohio (59), Illinois (81) and Iowa (85) appear to each be turning the corner and putting the virus away after sharp declines in cases in recent weeks.

Alaska is far and away the leader in Covid infection rate. The state 1,600 miles from the U.S mainland is recording 284 cases per every 100,000 residents every day, by far the most of any state. No other state is recording more than 200 cases per every 100,000 members of the population.

Despite declining cases nationwide, deaths are still rising in some parts of the country, especially in southern states with low vaccination rates.

Mississippi has by far the highest Covid mortality rate in America, recording 1.9 deaths per every 100,000 residents every day. Nearby South Carolina comes in second, with 1.56 per every 100,000 residents dying daily. 

Missouri (1.11 deaths per 100,000 residents) and Tennessee (1.1) are also among the nine states recording a high mortality rate.

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