SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — In the wake of President Joe Biden’s declaration, “The pandemic is over,” San Francisco’s infectious disease experts are not voicing the same definitive opinions.
UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said he was astonished by Biden’s declaration. “Even though it may be over in our minds, and we are in a lull right now, it certainly isn’t over,” Chin-Hong told KRON4 Monday.
“We still need to be flexible and on the alert” in case another surge hits the Bay Area. “Right now it’s anybody’s guess when the next surge may come, what the variants will be, how many people will get sick.”
Even though the United States is currently enjoying a lull in case rates, there are about 437 people dying from COVID every day nationwide. Chin-Hong said if you multiple 437 by 365 days, “you still get 160,000.”
If you think about 100,000-200,000 people dying every year, it’s hard to view the pandemic as something that’s behind us, Chin-Hong said.
Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of UC San Francisco Department of Medicine wrote Monday, “Is the pandemic ‘over’? (I) don’t know –- it’s a judgment call. But clearly the threat is far lower than it was, people have the means to stay fairly safe (though many are choosing not to), and at some point we need to shift from an emergency footing to a sustainable long-term strategy.”
For the first time since the pandemic began, Wachter said he will ditch his mask in many indoor spaces and dine indoors. He added that he will still wear his mask in the most severely exposure-prone situations, such as riding on a crowded airplane.
He listed the main reasons behind his choices as:
- “My threshold to liberalize my behavior is <5 cases/100K/d in my region. U.S. is now at 19, CA is at 12, & SF is at 6.”
- “Asymptomatic test positivity rate at UCSF Hospitals (is) now 1.6%. This means that ~1/60 people who feel OK would test positive for Covid. So while 1/60 asymptomatic people will test positive for Covid today in SF, ~1/100 will be infectious.”
- “If I dine today in a restaurant in SF, there’s a 1 in 10 chance that at least one infectious person will be nearby. For me, as a healthy vaxxed/boosted 64-year-old in SF, I think the risk has dropped to acceptable levels –- though I’ll still favor eating outdoors when feasible (where the risk is ~nil).”
- “What if I do get infected? While asymptomatic infections happen, I’ll assume that – at best – I’ll feel crummy for several days, need to isolate for ~1 week, & have a chance of infecting others – all things I’d like to avoid. But what are odds of the two really bad outcomes: 1) A severe acute case of acute Covid, and 2) Long Covid? The current case-fatality rate in those fully boosted is about 0.1% (similar to flu) – it’s much higher in the unvaxxed and unboosted, and it’s influenced by the usual risk factors. I’m far more worried about Long Covid. Odds of getting LC from a single case is ~10-20% in unvaxxed; it drops by ~50% in vaxxed. Let’s say it’s 5% – that’d mean that my 1/100 chance of getting Covid from a single meal would translate into a 1 in 2,000 chance of getting LC.”
Wachter said he will rethink his decisions if the next new variant, BA.2.75.2, causes another surge down the road.
A protest was organized outside the White House on Monday afternoon by #MEAction and people suffering from Long COVID. Protesters said the pandemic is far from “over,” and called on Biden to declare a Long COVID national emergency.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 5 Americans are experiencing Long COVID, chronic health conditions such as extreme fatigue that are poorly understood and difficult to treat. “Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems; these conditions can last weeks, months, or longer,” the CDC wrote.
“With 400 Americans dying each day, COVID-19 is a textbook example of a pandemic,” said Ben HsuBorger, #MEAction advocacy director. “And pandemics are chronic, with long term consequences that outlast their acute phases. But we aren’t even at that place with COVID-19 — we have extremely high rates of acute disease across the country, and one COVID-19 death every three minutes. Biden’s lies are costing lives.”
Biden, who is fully vaccinated, contracted COVID over the summer and dealt with mild symptoms.
The CDC has not yet declared that the pandemic ended, however, it has revised guidelines. For example, vaccinated and unvaccinated people only need to quarantine five days, as opposed to 10, after testing positive.
Biden made his declaration during an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday. Biden told 60 Minutes, “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
The National Institutes of Health broadly defines the term “pandemic” as “an epidemic of disease, or other health condition, that occurs over a widespread area (multiple countries or continents) and usually affects a sizable part of the population.”