This weekend President Joe Biden gave his first interview in over 200 days to “60 Minutes,” and boy, was it a doozy. It was filled with contradictions and policy bombs, forcing the White House to initiate its usual damage control status.
My favorite statement from the leader of the free world was the announcement that the COVID pandemic is “over.”
Well, he was reasonably careful to leave the door open to slide back into pandemic panic if the occasion were to arise, but his initial comments were unequivocal.
The public health community naturally believes otherwise and appears to feel a certain way about how they found out about the President’s announcement. So, is the honeymoon between Big Public Health and the White House over?
President Biden said on “60 Minutes” what most of us have been feeling for quite some time:
“The pandemic is over.”
Those of us who have been living our day-to-day lives without masks, sending our kids to school, going back into the office for work, and enjoying being out in the world experiencing life the way it was meant to be experienced have known this for a while. However, the President was quick to follow up with:
“We still have a problem with COVID.”
A convenient foot in the door to continue pushing requests for additional funding, boosting special interest and the teachers unions for even more COVID cash, and continuing to justify policy geared at voter enticement leading into the midterms.
For example, the White House asks for another $22 billion in COVID funding from Congress.
But why do we need to print more money for COVID support if the pandemic is over?
And let’s not forget the student loan bailout that was specifically pushed to ensure that grown adults who promised to pay back the borrowed money are “not placed in a worse position financially because of the pandemic.”
Soon-to-be-retired Dr. Anthony Fauci is still spouting his usual party-pooper lines post his boss’ proclamation. At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Dr. Fauci said:
“How we respond and how we’re prepared for the evolution of these variants is going to depend on us.”
Perhaps the most telling part of Dr. Fauci’s comments is the following:
“And that gets to the other conflicting aspect of this – is the lack of a uniform acceptance of the interventions that are available to us in this country where even now, more than two years, close to three years, into the outbreak, we have only 67% of our population vaccinated and only one-half of those have received a single boost.”
I would argue that part of why the vaccination numbers aren’t as high as Dr. Fauci and others in his field like to lament is this push that we must all uniformly accept what the ‘experts’ say, even after time and time again we have reasons not to trust the ‘experts.’ Hard to trust science when science often seems politically motivated.
It seems oddly common lately for words to lack solid definitions, which is also convenient at times, depending on who you are and your motivations. When it comes to the word pandemic, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Dr. Amesh Adalja says:
“I think it’s sort of a term of art. There’s no criteria or some checklist that you make.”
It seems counterintuitive that something based on science wouldn’t have a firm definition, let alone a checklist associated with it. I suppose we should just trust the scientists since they understand the art behind their science.
The Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Michael Osterholm, responded to the President, stating:
“Where are we at in the pandemic? We have to just acknowledge: We don’t know.”
So, where does that leave the rest of us? Should we be wringing our hands and living our lives subject to something the scientists just don’t know?
Even though, as Doctor Adalja states, there isn’t a solid definition or checklist for ending a pandemic, there seems to be a universal agreement that the President of the United States is not the authority when it comes to declaring an end to a pandemic. Apparently, it’s the World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus.
What does Dr. Ghebreyesus say? As of last week, his stance was:
“We are not there yet. But the end is in sight.”
Sure it is. With the daily death toll from COVID in the United States sitting at about 400, many say the data doesn’t line up with an end to the pandemic.
Epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health Gregg Gonsalves compares the death rate to another sad historic event in our country:
“In a week, that’s Twin Towers, right? It’s a 9/11, week after week after week.”
That’s an interesting comparison, given that on 9/11, we were attacked by terrorists who caused the death of almost 3,000 in one day.
It’s hard to get over a breakup. But at some point, I think the likes of Dr. Fauci will need to come to terms with the people tuning out.
Mr. Osterholm rightly explains:
“Public health has really lost the trust of many because we seem to be whipsawing back and forth between different positions.”
Indeed, and I must say we all need to use the term whipsaw more often. This whipsaw effect can be seen in the Centers for Disease Control, which released the same guidance for those vaccinated as those unvaccinated and shortened the quarantine time from ten to five days.
Dr. Fauci is still holding on, stating:
“…we are not where we need to be if we’re going to be able to, quote, ‘live with the virus,’…”
However, even with COVID sitting at roughly the fourth highest cause of death in the United States, it appears everyone is pushing for a return to normal. What is life if we aren’t able to live it?
And what is true if the truth is ambiguous and flexible? Mr. Osterholm argues:
“All of us want the pandemic to be over, but you can’t make it go away by just making a policy decision.”
Somebody should probably tell those in D.C. that because they’ve been waving their policy magic wand for quite some time now.
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