This is wrong. In fact, the United States has experienced one about the increase in cases in recent weeks due to the proliferation of new omicron subvariants. Failure to take this seriously could endanger vulnerable Americans.
We fear that Americans do not have a good sense of the true state of the pandemic. Some of the confusion can be traced back to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “covid-19 community level” metric introduced In february. The change was misleading, leading many in green areas to believe they have a low risk of being infected with coronavirus, while the metric in reality primarily indicates that they would have access to a hospital bed if they became seriously ill.
Meanwhile, cities and states have been change their definitions of covid admissionsreduction of monitoring activities and switch to less frequent reporting of cases. The lack of a public health infrastructure to report home test results and diminish access to testing due to the closure of mass test sites and the termination of the federal covid program for the uninsured also obscures the spread of the virus.
With covid rising again, there are many reasons why we should still take precautions. High transmission rates increase everyone’s risk of serious illness, which depends not only on how deadly a variant is, but also on the chances of individuals encountering it. We saw this during the omicron rise, when more than 150,000 Americans died. Although vaccines are extremely effective in reducing the risk of serious illness, they are not perfect and the protection they offer against infection diminishes over time. Moreover, U.S. vaccination rates are still lower than in other high-income countries, and only a minority of Americans eligible for boosters have received them. We can not rely solely on vaccinations.
We should also be concerned about prolonged covid, which too often has been minimized or ignored. Research shows that covid can cause long-term damage to organs, including the brain, heart and lungs. The condition is also associated with conditions such as diabetes, blood clots and dysautonomy. It is simply not wise to roll the dice and let ourselves be reinfected several times given the potential health consequences.
Also remember that even mild illness has disproportionate consequences. Many workers have not paid sick leave, making lost work days due to covid more burdensome for low-income Americans. In addition, suspension of all precautions risks exacerbating existing covid inequalities by race and income.
Pundits and even the CDC itself stress that it is up to individuals to make their own choices on how to protect themselves depending on their risk tolerance. But this narrative goes against the foundation of public health. When a virus that can cause serious illness is so prevalent and not everyone has equal access to tools to protect themselves, the best way to keep everyone safe is through collective policies.
Therefore, it is catastrophic to overturn the federal mask mandate for public transportation. Millions of essential workers, low-income communities and immunocompromised or disabled people are heavily dependent on buses, trains and subways. They should not have to make the impossible choice of traveling to work, to health appointments or grocery stores and increase their risk of becoming infected with the virus. Masks help keep these important spaces accessible to everyone, and they are far more effective when everyone is wearing one.
As Philadelphia Health Commissioner explained regarding the city’s decision to reintroduce its mask mandate: “By wearing masks consistently, we can continue to walk in our daily lives and continue to take part in life in our city without contributing to the increased transfer of covid-19,” and that that makes sense to be more cautious given the “history of differences [that] has particularly affected our black and brown communities in the city. “
And while effective treatments like Paxlovid are now available, that does not mean we can throw caution into the air. Availability does not mean equal access, especially for treatments that require early testing and connection to a health care provider. Against this background, preventive measures remain critical.
Something we keep hearing to justify the lack of precautions is that it is not March 2020 anymore. No, it’s not. We know so much more about the virus and have so many more tools to protect ourselves. But refusing to use them and pretending that the virus is no longer a threat will only prolong the pandemic, further contribute to mass disability and death, and increase existing inequalities.
Living with covid should not mean giving up any responsibility to each other. We must continue to work together to protect each other so that we can keep society safe, open and accessible to all.